The evolution of hydrogen storage technology

The storage of hydrogen has always been a challenge. Technology to store at low temperature as well as high pressure are indispensable. Let’s Look back at the lesser-known history of hydrogen storage technologies.

By Pierre Fiat, General Manager, Cryo Logistics and Airflow

The story starts during the second world war, when the US army stored helium in metal tubes. The gas was used for observation balloons. The main source of helium was the far north of Texas, in the town of Amarillo. The transportation was carried out in metal tubes. 5 to 6 cm thick with a pressure of less than 100bars, the tubes are so heavy that they must be transported by rail. At the end of the war, the gas field was taken over by a local company that used stronger tubes, but thinner and lighter, hauled by trucks. The hydrogen molecule is reductive so can attack metals. The tubes are then made with an even stronger alloy but are heavier. These are used to transport compressed hydrogen to petro-chemical plants (production of unleaded petrol) or fine chemicals (cosmetics for example).

The evolution of storage tubes made leaps and bounds during the 70s. This story also starts in the US. Space exploration is hungry for gas & oxygen, but steel & aluminium bottles are too heavy. Then comes along the type 4 plastic bottles reinforced with fibre glass. The production was based in Lincoln, Nebraska (this plant was later acquired by the Norwegian company Hexagon) and produces Type 4 storage bottles for both military & civil industries.

From 2000, Hexagon produced type 4 tubes for pipe laying ships for offshore oil & gas platforms. In order to limit the movement of waves and increase the stability of the ships, they use type 4 gas bottles. The tubes have a diameter of 1m and are 12m to 15m long, offering a very large storage capacity. One thousand kilos of hydrogen can be carried by truck. Today, this type of High-Tech composite tube offers the best combination for hydrogen transport. Light, safe, efficient, as well as long lasting.