How can digital twins make hydrogen cheaper and available faster?
New research has found that the window to avoid 1.5°C of global warming is rapidly decreasing as the amount of additional carbon that can be emitted into the atmosphere is reaching its limit — and with the energy sector emitting 73% of global greenhouse gases, the clean energy transition from fossil fuels to sustainable solutions could not be more vital.
Green hydrogen is one of the cleanest solutions as it is produced via electrolysis (which splits water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen), powered by renewable electricity sources, and does not release any carbon emissions like other colour-categorised hydrogens such as brown, black, and grey hydrogen.
At present, grey hydrogen is the most commonly used for energy, which is produced from natural gas, yet still release carbon into the atmosphere, and is relatively cheap at €1 to €2 per kilogram.
Right now, the more sustainable solution of green hydrogen costs €3 to €8 per kilogram.
To compare, one kilogram of coal currently costs just 12 cents (USD) at time of writing.
With this, lies the issue of the cost of net zero, which is continually allowing governments and industry to delay their net zero goals in the name of the economy and cost-of-living crisis.
Still, there is hope that green hydrogen will become more affordable, overtake the carbon-emitting grey hydrogen, and boost sustainable targets.
Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicts that green hydrogen could be produced for as little as 70 cents to $1.60 per kg in most parts of the world by 2050, and NEL, a major electrolyser manufacturer, believes hydrogen could match the cost of fossil fuels as early as 2025.
“The real challenge is how do we actually reduce the levelized cost of producing hydrogen,” says AVEVA’s head of sustainability, Lisa Wee. “We have to make this commercially viable.”
AVEVA, an industrial software firm, claims its digital twin solution can contribute to lowering the cost of green hydrogen energy by allowing hydrogen power plants to implement their data to see how they can become more efficient.
The company has been working with firms in the hydrogen economy to provide a digital twin of their solutions before they are even built.
“It’s extremely important to have a digital twin model that can really help you understand, from the very beginning of the design,” says Wee. The video process simulation makes sure that it’s fit-for-purpose for hydrogen production.
Electrolyser digital twins
A producer of carbon emission reduction technologies, Topsoe, is heading into the hydrogen business by manufacturing its own electrolysers to help industries such as steel manufacturing, shipping, and aviation decarbonise their energy.
But first, Topsoe used AVEVA’s digital twin solution to build the electrolysers digitally before they roll-out the manufacturing in real-life.
Chloe Smith, director of product management at AVEVA, explains that since electrolysers are a new technology, they are seeing a lot of companies simply taking designs off the shelf because they want something quick, “and they want to be the first player”.
“Realistically, to make it economically feasible, they’re going to have to design it in an optimal way, and for that you will need software support to design those in more optimum ways.”
Chief technology officer in Power-to-X [using renewables to create hydrogen] at Topsoe, Poul Georg Moses, said the use of AVEVA’s digital twin has helped remove bottlenecks these companies would have faced, and has sped up the development of the solutions.
“In the simulation platform, they now have a digital representation of the behaviour of the solid oxide electrolyser,” says Smith. “They can use it to test different control studies to optimise the design of it, to understand how it can fit in, and then with the rest of the upstream parts of a plant and downstream processing of hydrogen.”
“Topsoe needed a tool that was open and flexible so that they could work on it themselves and not have to wait on AVEVA to develop it within a certain amount of time,” Smith explained.
Moses commented: “Green hydrogen is essential for decarbonising industries that cannot be easily electrified, and there is no time to waste if we’re to succeed in achieving global Net Zero targets.”
“As of 2021, global electrolyser manufacturing capacity is insufficient to meet net zero requirements, according to the International Energy Agency,” says Lisa Wee.
“As renewable energy become increasingly available at lower costs, Topsoe’s ultra-high efficiency [solid oxide] electrolysers help maximise the delivery of clean hydrogen: the units deliver up to 30% more hydrogen from the same electricity volume at a 30% lower cost,” she claims.
Digital twins of entire hydrogen plants
Hydrogen is commonly referred to as ‘the hydrogen economy’ as it is a combination of three main components: hydrogen generation, hydrogen storage, and hydrogen re-electrification. So, electrolysers are only one part of a much larger model.
“Our design tools allow you to build and model chemical processes for hydrogen facilities, and part of that is the balance of plant energy management, and what the output could be for these facilities,” explains AVEVA’s head of product, Rob McGreevy.
McGreevy details that currently, since most hydrogen facilities are new starts and yet to be built, AVEVA’s suite of tools are simply used to design what they could look like and operate as.
And according to Lisa Wee, digital twin technologies “can really help you optimise the cost” of how much money is invested into the facilities before they are built.
To help, AVEVA has libraries of renewable digital twins, and libraries of electrolyser simulations, so that engineers can start to model the facility and see how renewables can impact production of hydrogen, particularly with seasonable variability.
“So, to see how things will be in the summer when we might have a lot of wind and solar, and see how that can feed into the design,” explains Wee.
“Our digital solution allows you to see what can change depending on variables, and how that immediately affects everything else in your [facility],” she adds.
In the future, these digital twins can be optimised to act in real-time with data-collecting monitors within the facility, claims Wee, and then there will also be an ecosystem approach as hydrogen acts as a fuel source and the facilities will have to act on supply and demand as that varies.
“You’re also going to have to share data with not just the people buying, but also the regulators,” and academics researching the clean-energy source.
Plus, “this is also a highly flammable gas, so there’s going to be a lot of emphasis around safety, as there should be,” says Wee.
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