New battery technology offers safe hydrogen storage for industrial applications

battery

A key focus for industrial sectors is the shift towards green energy and meeting net-zero goals. Global energy storage demands are reaching urgent capacity limits, capping the potential for renewable energy solutions. In response to this, LAVO – a climate technology company based in Sydney – has developed an integrated, scalable battery system that employs a metal hydride for the storage of hydrogen-based energy.

Powered by automation software from Beckhoff, the battery has a built-in electrolyser, which uses excess electrical production to produce hydrogen, storing it in metal hydride units. When energy supply is required, it converts the hydrogen into electricity by delivering it to the fuel cell to power the application. As a key technology provider for renewable energy across wind, solar, and now hydrogen, Beckhoff Automation provides PC-based functionality to ensure safety and streamlined control.

“Future expansion of the hydrogen market will require scalable automation systems that can grow in line with increasing demand,” says Benjamin Bruns, Product Manager at Beckhoff.

“Demand-driven processes based on complex algorithms for analysis and forecast of the market require powerful PC systems. The ability to adapt production capacities to changing market situations ensures sustainable and future-oriented investments.”

The major downfalls of lithium-ion solutions and existing hydrogen replacement technologies include low energy density, unit disposal issues, and high cost of long-term storage capacity. While lithium-ion may be suitable to applications where energy is used immediately and on a constant cycle, hydrogen is more suitable for longer term storage either on a residential (20 kilowatt) or utility scale (10-20 megawatt) and drawn from selectively.

According to Dr. John Roles, Project Director at LAVO, the system’s asset management technology maximises return on investment on renewable change-overs. It offers a 50 per cent cost saving through an augmented intelligence platform.

“We are aiming to address the drawbacks of current solar technology, which has no adequate means to store the energy for 24/7 power,” Roles explains. “Australia is a major leader in both battery and hydrogen advancements, and so Providence Climate Capital teamed up with the University of New South Wales to develop this new approach.”

Typically, lithium-ion batteries can sustain short cycle supply, delivering around two hours of backup and degrading after about 7,000 cycles. The storage component of lithium-ion systems constitutes the major portion of the overall system costs. Hydrogen, however, can store power for longer durations and systems have been proven suitable for in excess of 20,000 cycles. The storage component of hydrogen systems forms a minor portion of the costs, making them more suitable for larger, longer term storage requirements. This renders modular hydrogen solutions as particularly attractive to sectors that rely on remote non-grid or poor grid power sources, such as mining.

“The primary difference between lithium-ion and hydrogen batteries is the cost of storage,” says Roles. “With lithium-ion, you pay for the amount that you have. Whereas with hydrogen, 90 per cent of the costs are involved with conversion, so it doesn’t so much matter how much, or long you store it for.”

 The biggest factor affecting the unstable electricity market is the decentralisation from grid power and a shifting dependency across multiple power sources. This has significantly impacted the energy value chain, along with changing investment priorities from large mining and energy supply companies.

“The growing share of energy from volatile sources is one of the biggest challenges of the renewable energy transition,” posits Bruns. “Energy stored as hydrogen will help stabilise increasingly volatile power grids. Interconnected control systems along the power supply chain will play a key role in balancing energy supply and demand in the future.”

“The Australian Government has committed to the replacement of all fossil fuel applications by 2050,” Roles adds. “The reality is that the change is happening much more rapidly. This transition is going to see large fluctuations in the pricing of electricity, which means businesses with high power demand will need a plan in place, particularly those that are subject to spot pricing.”

Being cognisant of these market fluctuations, and knowing when to engage a hydrogen source, store and release power, or tap into the grid, requires a consistent data flow from the battery unit. Over a maximised 30-year product life, the LAVO battery engages advanced software on a singular interface to assess performance and offer detailed insight on the state of power costs.

“The ability to virtually predict energy prices ahead of time, especially for industrial use, and have a fixed amount of energy stored, is extremely advantageous,” says Roles. “The data integrated software from Beckhoff is facilitating that crucial feature within the LAVO systems, which automates the process of when to store power, and when to release it for optimum cost performance.”

Additionally, Roles mentions the potential for hydrogen utility in food and beverage processing, where heat generation is critical.

“Not only is hydrogen used to generate electricity but it can also be used for heating,” he explains. “A food manufacturer, for instance, could use hydrogen in the place of natural gas on stove and oven applications. It would be a fairly straightforward process to update the burners, and there are a number of companies in Australia already looking to go ahead with this substitution.” 

The safety concerns related to hydrogen storage have been considered in the selection and design of the metal hydride ‘sponge’, which self-regulates the release of hydrogen to prevent catastrophic vessel leakage. Sitting at a relatively low-pressure rating of 30bar, this solution mitigates safety issues associated with testing, pressure certification, and steel embrittlement. The formulation of the metal hydride used is subject to a worldwide patent with rights being held exclusively by LAVO.

“People tend to be wary about the potential dangers of hydrogen, but in some ways it is less dangerous than other energy solutions,” says Roles. “It can ventilate much more easily and doesn’t collect in pockets like natural gas does. Our patented technology is a simpler option than liquified hydrogen, which requires large energy costs to create and maintain storage at -253°C.”

This hydrogen storage framework has proven cost-saving potential for down-time power generation on many applications. For sites that operate throughout the night, relying on solar generation has historically been unviable. A hybrid or full-service hydrogen implementation has the potential to allow larger-scale operations to make the switch.

“Coming off the grid and relying on hydrogen systems enables energy consumers to claim that they’re fully green,” he concludes. “They can generate their own power and store it themselves on site. That is a major drawcard for businesses that trade on customer relationships.”

With rapid advancements in both residential and larger-scale utility potential, the hydrogen-based conversion and storage systems have seen growing interest from a range of sectors – including some of the country’s biggest energy consumers. LAVO is currently running a number of demonstration sites within Australia to assess the scalability of its technology.

From IoT analytics to explosion protection solutions, Beckhoff is at the cusp of the hydrogen movement in Australia’s industrial landscape. Field technology for powering large-scale plants and transport mobility requires accurate, real-time monitoring, and their flexible intelligence frameworks ensure that projects like the LAVO battery systems promise long-term reliability.