The Government target for Britain’s network of gas pipes to be ready to deliver 20% hydrogen nationwide from 2023 is just around the corner. The environmental benefits are clear, Britain’s Hydrogen Blending Delivery Plan suggests that a 20% hydrogen blend will reduce carbon emissions by as much as the equivalent of taking 2.5 million cars off the road. However, addressing specific integrity and safety issues will be essential if this goal is to be reached.
This has been a significant focus of attention, and investment, at Oxford Flow. Through identifying the key challenges facing hydrogen blending, as well as keeping improvements of existing gas networks in mind, we have developed our own innovative approach to future proof gas regulators within the gas distribution system.
The network relies on various gas regulators and regulators that must be maintained by specialist technicians in facilities around the country. Those stations have robust safety protocols given the obvious risks posed by leaks, however, hydrogens volatility and smaller molecular structure represent a new kind of safety challenge, and the blending of hydrogen into supply poses new risks.
The materials used in networks will play a crucial role in safety: hydrogen molecules can spread into metal, particularly carbon steel. When those molecules react with carbon elements and form methane within the pipe, they cause it to expand and crack, making it susceptible to dangerous leaks. Of course, even without the introduction of hydrogen into existing gas distribution systems, the need for a leak free and safe solution is vital.
Our innovative IM-S gas regulator is manufactured from 316 stainless steel, which is acknowledged to be less susceptible to the embrittlement process. Furthermore, they do not feature large elastomeric diaphragms which, research suggests, fare less well in trials of hydrogen transmission at various pressures, with leaks a common issue. By eliminating the diaphragm and reducing the risk of regulator fatigue and failure, the IM-S regulator minimises the risk of unplanned maintenance – maximising efficiency and reducing operating costs whether hydrogen blending is present in a network or not.
Existing infrastructure has been designed for the distribution of natural gas, but up to three times more hydrogen is required than natural gas to meet energy needs. Many network stations are sized to deal with a one-in-twenty winter – a sort of worst-case scenario – and in that context it’s important to bear in mind that an eventual change to 100% hydrogen would effectively triple the flow required to meet demand.
This means network operators will require gas regulators that can cope with such flow increases. At the same time, we’re typically in situations where the system is perhaps only 5-10% open, and at the low end of flow capacity many standard regulators can experience instability.
We have invested hundreds of thousands of simulation hours and completed a rigorous testing regime to demonstrate that our IM series gas regulators can operate with stability at anything from zero to 100% of operating capacity. Furthermore, as our valves are built to be smaller and lighter, the process of retrofitting into networks is made simple, as is any future maintenance. These valves are already deployed in several different networks and will help to future-proof the system, protecting from the implications of any scaling up of flow as the blend of hydrogen grows and new demand.
Remarkable innovation, predictable results
In our interactions with clients, it’s always interesting to show them the data generated by our gas regulators. It typically looks very similar to data they’ve seen before, and they ask: what’s so special about it?
In truth, there’s nothing special about it, and nor should there be. When it comes to gas networks and hydrogen blending, we want operators to see the same quality of data they’ve always seen – data which provides assurance and safety – albeit now being delivered by a new, more sustainable, and reliable solution.