Hydrogen technologies are slowly becoming part of consumer life in many countries, but in China the hydrogen market is very much a part of daily life. Beginning operation in late 2018, one of the world’s largest refueling stations keeps China’s hydrogen buses – and its people – moving all day long.
With Haskel’s H-Drive playing a part in the station’s operation, our own Stephen Learney and Darran Heath recently visited the refueling station to study how the hydraulic gas booster supports daily refueling. Below they share why this refueling station is so important to the worldwide hydrogen market and where the industry will likely lead next.
Tell us about your visit to this refueling station. Being one of the largest in the world, what made this station unique?
The size of this station is truly impressive. It’s a fully operational facility that is essentially 3 stations in one, supporting the refueling of 74 buses. We visit refueling stations around the world and sometimes we’re lucky if we see a vehicle fill up. This station was buzzing with activity.
It looked like a conventional petroleum bus station. The buses would roll in, refuel for 10 minutes, and be on their way. The process was easy and efficient. The key differences from a standard petroleum station were the influences of clean energy – no emissions and limited noise from the buses.
This station runs 24/7, supporting over 140 refills a day, seven days a week. On average, buses receive 10 kilograms of hydrogen in 10 minutes. Daily, the refueling site provides 1,500 kilograms of hydrogen. The buses receive the hydrogen by direct injection, meaning no cascade system or storage is necessary. This approach and these volumes are unique in the hydrogen community.
The operators have also done a great job of normalizing the use of this hydrogen station. Innovation is important to making the market successful, but the application of hydrogen technology should feel like progress toward green energy rather than a fad. This station captured that, which was great to see.
How did Haskel get involved with the development of this station?
China’s commitment to clean energy has created a lot of opportunities for Haskel to support hydrogen infrastructure developments. Our channel partner, Hydrosys, has played a really important role in these equipment placements. In 2018, China deployed 18 refueling stations and 17 of them utilized Haskel products. Hydrosys has already lined up several projects for the coming year as well.
Our successful involvement with the refueling station that initially launched during the Pyeongchang Olympics has also opened future opportunities. The Beijing Olympics in 2022 will have a similar refueling station. We’re looking forward to contributing to another world-leading event.
Why is a hydrogen refueling station of this size so important to the growth of the hydrogen market as a whole?
A station of this size handling such high volumes of hydrogen refills is a validation of scalability. Some stations only start at operational refills of 50 kilograms per day, and most of the inquiries we get about our high-pressure equipment working in a station is only based on 500-1,000 kilograms daily. To see this station operate at 1,500 kilograms per day, is proof that scaling up in clean energy and hydrogen technologies is completely viable.
For Haskel personally, the success of this refueling station reaffirms our pursuit of innovative high-pressure technologies. The hydraulic-driven compression solutions our H-Drive gas booster provides are inverse to what the market expects to work. Most manufacturers focus on compression, but our engineers have made a successful shift away from the traditional mindset and, ultimately, have provided customers with more effective solutions.
Why hasn’t the transition to hydrogen technology been as prominent in other countries?
It’s certainly not for lack of effort. Other countries such as Germany, France, Japan the United Kingdom, and Australia are investing in hydrogen technology and making it a reality. A successful transition requires a lot of support from the government, but consumer adoption is just as important. Right now, many countries still have a lot of gaps to fill on the consumer side. In some cases, we see countries that have 45,000 petroleum refueling stations but less than 50 hydrogen stations. This lack of infrastructure is discouraging to consumer purchases of hydrogen vehicles.
Do you expect to see changes in hydrogen infrastructure in the coming year?
Yes, we’re working to help countries see the importance of hydrogen infrastructure and support refueling station development needs. The hydrogen market is bit of a ‘chicken and egg’ situation. Development of hydrogen vehicles and hydrogen infrastructure have to happen in parallel, but the infrastructure needs to stay slightly ahead in order to make adoption more successful. It’s a delicate balance.
The cost of hydrogen vehicles is a deterrent for consumers right now. Because the demand is low, volume is low and that’s keeping the price high. Recent investments from major automobile manufacturers are indicating that a shift in cost and demand will happen soon. We’re seeing a lot of big names scale up their ventures in hydrogen – Toyota and Hyundai are leading the charge, increasing vehicle production with other OEM’s following this strategy.
What other advancements are you expecting to see in hydrogen technologies?
We’re looking forward to a dramatic increase of activity in deployment of refueling stations. A lot of manufacturers are going to be making the transition from R&D to fully commercial technologies. Rather than just experiencing hydrogen technologies in a research capacity, we’re expecting to see hydrogen projects happen in the real world so to speak. Truly commercial uses of hydrogen are the next step as countries make more commitments to infrastructure.