Addressing materials challenges can enable hydrogen deployment at scale


The UK can cement its position as a leader in hydrogen and realise widescale deployment by 2050 if a number of critical materials challenges are addressed, a report has said.

On 10 June, the Henry Royce Institute published a report, outlining the materials research and development opportunities that need to be progressed to ensure hydrogen can become a viable energy source at scale. It added that in doing so, it will underpin the UK’s wider hydrogen energy sector leadership ambitions by providing potential materials solutions that can support accelerated deployment of hydrogen.

Six priorities were identified, including the need for research targeted at reducing rare element loading to realise PEM electrolysis capacity on a terawatt scale. As it stands, PEM technology contains rare, expensive elements to catalyse the process of hydrogen and oxygen evolution which increase the cost of PEM electrolysers and, as a result, green hydrogen. Furthermore, the global production capacity of these elements limits the electrolysis capacity that can be developed at current catalyst loading levels.

Efforts must be made to develop efficient catalysts that allow ammonia to be produced on a distributed scale and enable it to be cracked more efficiently into hydrogen and nitrogen, supporting its use as a hydrogen carrier, as well as to improve point of use hydrogen purification technologies. This would enable large scale fuel cell hydrogen supply from the gas grid as, at present, hydrogen leaving the grid would be at relatively low purity in contrast to the high levels of purity currently required by hydrogen fuel cells.

Understanding of materials degradation pathways for high volume compressors must improve to enable large scale hydrogen distribution through the UK gas grid. Transporting hydrogen in the grid will require compressors that can take it to the pressures required for transmission. However, the small size and light weight of hydrogen molecules, alongside their ability to degrade materials makes the design of compressors a challenge.

Elsewhere, with hydrogen storage tanks the most expensive component in current hydrogen fuel cell cars, and also adding significant weight, solutions that offer more conventional fuel tank shapes allowing for optimal use of on-board space and greater flexibility in vehicle design are needed. Taking action to develop the UK’s capability to test, set standards and accredit new materials was also cited as a priority, something that would increase confidence in results and collaboration between those undertaking research in the hydrogen space. This would also help cement the UK’s position as a leader in this field.