Control systems integration: The hydrogen hub backbone

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Nishadi Davis
Head of Carbon Advisory Americas

Federal investment has created an unprecedented opportunity for the private sector to partner with federal agencies to jumpstart the hydrogen economy. The United States Department of Energy’s (DOE) Bipartisan Infrastructure Law includes $9.5 billion dollars[1] in clean hydrogen incentives with the intention of establishing several regional clean hydrogen hubs. This will further strengthen energy security and decarbonize many sectors as we transition to clean energy.

Hydrogen is a versatile energy carrier and its applications today range across a number of industries such as oil refining, ammonia and steel production. This allows us to leverage existing assets and infrastructure to scale up the hydrogen economy by combining a range of new technologies enabling the basis for regional hydrogen hubs. While the most recent focus in establishing these hubs has rightly been on developing solutions for the individual assets within a hub, the backbone of hydrogen hubs will be the control systems that link the individual assets together. This means that systems integration will play a key role in the success of these projects.

The flow of Hydrogen

The anatomy of a hydrogen hub can be divided into four segments: hydrogen production (making it), hydrogen storage and hydrogen transportation (moving it), and electrical power generation (using it).

Each of these segments can then be divided further. Hydrogen production, for example, will occur through a variety of different processes from many different producers. Production methods will range from existing fossil fuel facilities using steam methane reforming that will likely be modernized by adding carbon capture units, to new electrolyzer and biomass facilities. Hydrogen that is produced across these processes will then need to be transported to either storage facilities or electrical power generation units. These different pieces will need to be monitored effectively and controlled efficiently to ensure a robust hydrogen network.

Because hub establishment will require multiple partners across the energy industry, the control systems within each hub will have a different range of systems from many vendors, as well as a wide range of functionalities and communication protocols. It will therefore be necessary to establish some form of a supervisory control system to integrate all the individual controls into one centralized system to get an accurate view of what is happening across the entire hub at any given time.

Let's take a look at the control systems architecture needed for the hydrogen hub establishment.

Creating an effective hydrogen ecosystem

Individual pieces of the hydrogen ecosystem can only function together if they are able to operate effectively with one another. Control systems and network planning should be started early in the hub development phase to ensure that communication, data and information are integrated, and streamlined across entities. Defining communication protocols at the hardware purchasing stage, identifying all necessary hardware interfaces upfront is key to the planning process. Alternatively, trying to piece together communication links in the late stages of hub development is both more expensive and time-consuming. Control systems planning in hydrogen hub development should be a priority to systematically design a robust control infrastructure helping make, move and use hydrogen more effectively.

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