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Blog: Preparing to Welcome the Future Fuel: Hydrogen

The energy industry is on the cusp of a revolution, and hydrogen is at the forefront. As a zero-emissions fuel, hydrogen offers many benefits over natural gas, which has been the focus of clean energy efforts for the past two decades. 

Europe is leading the way in this transition, with the European Commission announcing its plan to reduce greenhouse emissions and ultimately achieve climate neutrality by 2050. This plan was further accelerated following the war in Ukraine and the political instability in Russia, the biggest natural gas supplier in Europe.

There are many reasons to be optimistic about the future of hydrogen. As the energy industry continues to move away from fossil fuels, hydrogen will play an increasingly important role. With its many benefits, hydrogen is well-positioned to become the fuel of choice for the 21st century.

What Do We Know About Hydrogen?

Hydrogen is the most abundant element on planet earth, found in water, natural gas, and biomass. It has less severe environmental impacts than other fuels, with its effects depending largely on how it’s produced. The end product of burning hydrogen is simply water, making it a clean and sustainable fuel option.

Today, more than 5000 km of hydrogen pipelines are already operating worldwide. Of these pipelines, over 90% are in the United States and Europe. This number will only grow as the hydrogen market expands.

There’s no doubt that hydrogen will single-handedly change the industry, but with so much left unknown, we’ve come to understand there’s a significant knowledge deficit about it. And despite its many benefits, some challenges still exist when it comes to adopting it as a replacement for natural gas.

What Are the Potential Challenges of Hydrogen?

Making the switch to hydrogen will require significant investments into the production, storage, and distribution of the gas. This includes everything from pipelines and refueling stations to homes that can run on hydrogen fuel. If not understood and addressed, these challenges will impede the growth of hydrogen’s regime as a fuel.

Here are the key challenges we’ve identified so far:

Safety

Hydrogen is quite volatile and easy to ignite. At high quantities and pressure, it can pose a significant danger; the ignition energy for hydrogen is about ten times lower than that of natural gas.

Consider the 2019 hydrogen explosion in Norway, which resulted from leaked hydrogen and injured multiple people nearby. This is a clear example of why hydrogen must be handled carefully - from production to distribution to end-users.

Infrastructure

One of the greatest challenges the industry faces is transporting hydrogen, determining whether existing infrastructures will be suitable for this new fuel, and determining how it will interact with pipelines, seals, gaskets, compressors, and other components.

At the current time, there isn’t enough factual information regarding how hydrogen could affect a small crack on a pipe. Would hydrogen propagate the crack size? Would seals expand or contract? Are there even compressors capable of handling hydrogen? These and many more questions are left to explore.

Inspection

The use of hydrogen presents the need for efficient hydrogen pipeline inspection systems. Current pipeline inspection technologies may not be sufficient to assess useful information about the status of pipes, which lies solely in the fact that there are many unknowns about how hydrogen will impact them.

Since hydrogen's volatility and high ignition tendency have been clearly established, there’s no question that leakage poses a significant threat. The ability to avert leakage would come from the ease of inspecting pipelines adequately - with the right tools, at the right time - to obtain the right data.

Despite its challenges, we remain optimistic about the future of hydrogen and its role in the transition to a clean energy future.

What's Next for NDT Global and Hydrogen?

At NDT Global, we’re committed to exploring hydrogen’s potential and collaborating with others in the industry to find solutions to the challenges it poses. We believe that we can overcome these challenges and unlock hydrogen’s full potential by working together.

To help solve the challenges ahead, here are some initiatives we’re pursuing:

  • Forming a technical review and technical research committee comprising revered professionals from universities and throughout the industry to understand the technical aspect of hydrogen and identify how it will interact with pipelines in terms of corrosion, fatigue, cracking, and other possible defects.

  • Forming partnerships with other companies, such as Dynamic Risk, to better understand the hydrogen impact and form a strategic plan for the future.

  • Investing in hydrogen research and developing new technologies that can be swiftly deployed to diagnose problems related to hydrogen pipelines. 

Paving the Way for Hydrogen

As the industry actively awaits the hydrogen revolution, we’re witnessing heavy investment into research teams and facilities, the formation of committees of experts, and engaging panel sessions where industry leaders share their knowledge and concerns with hydrogen. It’s clear that the industry isn’t turning back on this revolution.

At NDT Global, we’re future-focused and set on the reality that the industry will witness significant changes in the next 10 to 20 years with the increasing use of hydrogen as a fuel. 

As a leading provider of inspection services, we’re poised to take on the challenges of the hydrogen economy by preparing viable solutions that support the movement toward hydrogen pipelines and ensure the safety and longevity of infrastructure assets.

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