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How is Hydrogen Combustion useful for the power generation industry?

For several decades, power generation facilities have relied on coal, gas, and oil as the primary fuel sources to meet energy demands. As the infrastructure supporting hydrogen combustion processes becomes more mainstream, plants should consider utilizing hydrogen as an alternative fuel to both minimize carbon emissions and increase operational flexibility.

Industry leaders are increasingly looking to hydrogen as the “fuel of the future”, and working to pivot your operation now can help ensure long-term sustainability. Investing in hydrogen combustion capabilities allows plant operators to better meet changing energy demands, but this process requires special considerations to account for the differences in how hydrogen behaves as compared to the fuel sources of the past. 

How is Hydrogen Combustion useful for the power generation industry? 

Although many power generation facilities currently rely on other fuel sources, such as coal or natural gas, for reliable energy production, the hydrogen combustion process can be very beneficial for plants looking to make use of all available resources. Combustion of hydrogen is carbon free and the byproduct is only water. As utilities commit to lower carbon generation in the future, hydrogen can provide a significant pathway to that goal. In many cases, the inclusion of hydrogen combustion capabilities does not exclude the usage of traditional fossil fuels, preserving the flexibility of your operation as fuel availability fluctuates.

What should plant operators consider when converting to a hydrogen combustion system? 

Before undertaking a new hydrogen setup or converting an existing setup, plant managers should consider several important operational factors. 

Hydrogen fuel mixture

Sites looking to add hydrogen to their fuel mix have several options for developing a flexible configuration. Hydrogen can be used as both a pure, standalone fuel or as a blend with other fuels in varying concentrations. However, mapping out your intended fuel concentrations should be planned in advance to ensure complete and safe combustion with the proper equipment setup.

Current and future equipment needs

As a molecule, hydrogen has low volumetric density and burns much hotter than other fuels. These qualities make it prone to leakage from pipe, valves, and instrumentation. The hotter burning temperatures mean equipment must be specially designed with higher grade steels to avoid deformation and equipment failure. Furthermore, a hydrogen flame is invisible to the human eye and requires special flame detection configurations for safe operation.

While some combustion equipment may be suitable for use with hydrogen, other components of your current setup may need to be upgraded or replaced to account for these differences. 

Planned storage

One of the many benefits of hydrogen as a fuel source is that it can be stored for months without losing energy. However, finding a practical way to store it on-site can be challenging, since hydrogen is extremely lightweight and prone to leakage. 

Hydrogen sourcing

One of the fascinating facts about hydrogen is how many different ways it can be produced - each with its own color designation:

  • Green: hydrogen produced from the carbon-free electrolysis of water
  • Blue: hydrogen produced from the steam reforming of natural gas with carbon capture
  • Gray: hydrogen produced from the steam reforming of natural gas without carbon capture
  • Brown: hydrogen produced from the gasification of coal
  • Pink: hydrogen produced from electrolysis powered by nuclear reactors

In addition to these common sources, there are still others under development. Another interesting way to source hydrogen is through the decomposition of ammonia, which is available nationwide. Across the United States, salt domes and the associated pipeline infrastructure are being developed for the long term storage of hydrogen. 

How can operators prepare for a hydrogen conversion? 

As hydrogen becomes more widely utilized as a clean energy source, many of the complications with the hydrogen production process will be minimized. But until the market reaches that scale, plant operators can encourage further development of hydrogen-focused infrastructure and leverage the unique benefits of hydrogen as a fuel source by adopting or converting to a hydrogen-ready combustion setup. 

In addition, any fuel lines that will be transporting hydrogen or hydrogen-mix fuel should be reinforced with safety shut off valves, valve stems, and pipe material that is rated for H2 use. 

Forney currently manufactures the following equipment lines that are ideal for use in new hydrogen combustion setups or conversions of existing setups:

Utilize Hydrogen Combustion for Maximum Operational Flexibility

Plant operators can take advantage of this clean-burning fuel source by adapting existing single-fuel setups to a dual-fuel system designed for hydrogen combustion. To ensure your setup is managed efficiently and with the care and expertise it deserves, consult with the experts at Forney, who have provided combustion solutions for demanding applications since 1927. 

For a deeper look at how you can make use of hydrogen in your plant, explore our Hydrogen Guidebook that includes a detailed review of equipment options, Forney’s combustion research center, and specialty business partners.