Podcast: Challenges in Building a Hydrogen Mobility Infrastructure


Hydrogen DeliveryOne of the rapidly growing areas in transition to hydrogen as an energy carrier is in the transportation sector. Vehicles with fuel cells use hydrogen as an energy carrier with the emission being water. In this podcast, Denka Wangdi shares some of the challenges in the buildout of hydrogen mobility infrastructure and some of the ways advancing technologies and solutions are addressing these challenges.

Real-time communications and analytics, “Smart Manufacturing” will be a key component to running a Hydrogen infrastructure both efficiently and safely.

This infrastructure runs from the production and distribution of hydrogen all the way to the dispensing to the consumer at the hydrogen fueling station. Listen in as Denka shares the important role that instrumentation, automation, and enterprise level connectivity play in delivering this hydrogen safely, reliably and efficiently.

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Jim: Hi, everyone, welcome to this Emerson Automation Experts podcast. Hydrogen has been used in industrial processes for a very long time, and Emerson has provided automation technologies to manage its production and use for decades. Hydrogen is also a tremendous energy carrier that is being pursued for many decarbonization initiatives. Replacing transportation fuels requires investments in infrastructure for this transition. Denka Wangdi, a strategic marketing executive joins us today to discuss ways to increase the financial return on hydrogen mobility infrastructure investments. Welcome, Denka.

Denka: Yeah. Hi, good morning, Jim. Thanks for having me on.

Jim: Well, it’s great that you’re joining us today. So I guess to get started for our listeners, can you share your educational background and path to your current role?

Denka: Yeah, sure. So I’ve always enjoyed data and analytics, and I actually began my career in finance, if you can believe it. I had several roles in accounting and financial, you know, reporting, business development type positions. And I eventually moved up into controllership where my focus was really on R&D and technology in an OEM company. And then I moved over and pivoted to customer-driven positions, which is actually where I am today. So I’m responsible for the strategic marketing for the machine automation solutions business, and looking at oil and gas, but now really focused around sustainability as well as the hydrogen market.

Jim: Well, that’s an interesting and varied background with that financial part of it. So it’s good we’re talking about, you know, the returns as people look into these infrastructure investments. So I guess to ground all our listeners for this discussion, can you describe what hydrogen mobility infrastructure entails?

Denka: Yeah, you know, the demand for hydrogen, if we’ve been looking and following any reports, especially fuel stations, is increasing exponentially. So the demand, what we see, you know, for the upstream side has been already growing over the last 20 years. But in the mobility side, it has been led predominantly by Europe. And what we’re seeing now is that even areas in Asia Pacific, specific to Japan, Korea, and now China are growing at a, you know, substantial rate. But also in the U.S., most of it is around the densely populated areas. As soon as manufacturers release new models of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, which include buses, railways, machinery, and other material handling equipment, the difficulty 15 years ago was on the production of the hydrogen itself and more on the upstream side. But now the focus is actually on governments and customers on how to get the hydrogen in the hands of the end-user. So, you know, what do we see that’s happening in the market? We see a market that has grown over 40% plus CAGR [compound annual growth rate]. And it’s driven predominantly by the increase in demand. And just as a point of reference, Jim, you know, the battery electric vehicle market is also growing at this rate, around 30% plus CAGR. So the good news is that our source of hydrogen is really clean. It’s zero emissions from a transportation viewpoint, and the vehicles release no harmful emissions. And that’s what we’re proud to do. So Emerson has moved into this market very strongly.

Jim: Well, I know with hydrogen, there’s technical challenges involved. You know, given the tiny size of the H2 molecule, what are some of the operational challenges in hydrogen mobility infrastructure?

Denka: Sure, you know, I’ll preface it by saying that there are four really key problems or issues that are faced in the market today. And the first three challenges are on the mobility, infrastructure, or at the local station itself. So whether it’s the transportation and the handling of the hydrogen, there are leaks and overspill that occur. So hydrogen, as you mentioned, it’s a dangerous gas and it’s also very tiny.

Being odorless and transparent, it has a tendency to disperse quickly under normal pressure. The particles of course are so small that they can easily escape through miniature holes, through steel tanks, through the actual infrastructure that’s in place. And it actually winds up making the steel tanks or storage units very brittle. So the second point is around the dispensing side. And the station components should handle temperatures between minus 40 degrees, all the way up to plus 40 degrees Celsius, as well as the pressure ranges of like 350 bar, all the way up to 800 bar pressure range. So if there’s a leak, not only is there an environmental hazard, so we talked about, you know, the transportation and distribution side, there is also the environmental which leads into the safety issue. And there is a main point for hydrogen fuel stations that we are experiencing today, the criticality of having your operations as well as your personnel safe is key and something that all operators are thinking about.

Jim: And you listed out several challenges, what are some of the reasons behind some of these challenges?

Denka: Sure. So the first three problems discussed really happen at the station itself. But there is a larger issue that operators are facing even with their fueling stations, and that is the lack of transparency on problems that are faced at the local station. So whether it’s the leaks, or the transportation, and storage, the dispensing, the number one criticality is around safety. But the importance of having that data relay back up to a control center, or back to the main control unit room, their install base is vital to have that full transparency across the fleet for improvements so that we are able to increase the actual operational efficiency of the stations.

Jim: That’s interesting. Now, what are some of the possibilities to address these challenges different than the traditional ways and methods that might have been done in the past?

Denka: You know, I’d like to take you back, Jim, to something we discussed about as we walk through this digital journey for our customers. We live in a world where our devices are all connected. Now, there are reports from Amazon and from Microsoft that say, in a person’s given life, we come across 50 billion connected instruments and devices. So think about it. If our toasters now actually have sensors, how is it that our mission-critical assets have taken so long to not only get connected at the site, but even at that next level, at the enterprise level? So these are the discussions that the industry is actually facing. And we know that there are old fleets and infrastructure out there. But the lack of revenue is missed, or the opportunity cost of not being able to have fleet management, of enterprise-level management, as well as recommendations, for example, like optimal times that the fuel station is open is now vital, and it’s what operators are evaluating on a daily basis.

Jim: Yeah, it seems like having some of that additional information coming in through easy to apply measurements and other things open up areas to look at more than just basically keeping things running and operating more economically and everything. So how do recent technologies such as edge-based controls address hydrogen dispensing at the point of sale?

Denka: Yeah, so you know, our edge controllers or smart controllers in general, are the way of the future. If in 2020, and I take it back just even a year, 80% of the data across our digital assets were gathered in the cloud, studies and reports have indicated that by 2030, just in another decade, that the shift will actually happen on the edge or at the site. And in this case, at the fueling stations. So the data previously at stations was either just simply not collected, or manually done with the station manager or operations manager reviewing the fuel levels, the maintenance charts daily. Now, not only are the edge controllers reporting, like the ambient temperature ranges, optimal pressures, or even the refill requests, but the data at the station can be in real time, where we know how precise the need is to have transfer at the dispensing unit. And again, Jim, it’s done seamlessly. So the need for predictive maintenance, scheduling, you know, versus having stations go empty is key. Emerson’s controls along with our sensors, our gauges, our valves, and our suite of instrumentation are combined solutions that we can now offer to our customers, which we’ve been doing, you know, in the upstream side, but we’re actually now doing it even in the mobility side.

Jim: Now, you mentioned a couple of these measurements, but what are some of the key measurements required in hydrogen mobility infrastructure?

Denka: If I’m to think back, you know, the most important and I touched on this a little bit is really around the pressure and temperature ranges. So from the fueling station, dispensing station, the compressed hydrogen storage systems, along with sensors, and pressure relief devices help us ultimately improve the operational efficiency. The scheduled maintenance really helps increase the durability of all the assets. And I think one thing that’s key that many people don’t think about is reducing the refueling cost, which operators actually have to incur at their bottom line. So we’re able to do all of that efficiently if we can get the top three or four metrics evaluated and then predicted.

Jim: Okay. Yeah, it seems like if you’re pulling it in and you can predict out in there, you can operate more reliably and kind of maximizing things. Now, if we turn to look at it from a flow control perspective, what technologies are required for precise and efficient dispensing?

Denka: Sure. You know, we have a full suite of solutions. And actually, one thing that we hear time and again, from our customers is, our instrumentation software and services portfolio is incredibly holistic in nature. And it’s something that we can provide very seamlessly. So from ASCO‘s fuel dispensing valves, which are really intended to use specifically around explosive areas, to Micro Motion Coriolis meters, which detect accuracy for the dispensing application, to actually Rosemount flame detectors and actuators that combine capabilities to detect invisible hydrogen fires, while simultaneously, you know, keeping the operations alive. We have a complete portfolio of hardware.

And additionally, we also offer software like Movicon, which was a newly acquired business, to DeltaV, to Cimplicity, to Plantweb. And we’re able to run the station at a level or connect back to the control center. So again, from a unit level, all the way up to an enterprise level, we have the instrumentation business as well as our software and services as an entire package.

Jim: You describe the sensing elements, the final control that’s controlling that transfer of hydrogen in there, that getting the information to other systems for more of the analysis and asset management and that kind of thing. So yeah, it really does sound like the full range of things. So by implementing some of these technologies you just mentioned, what impacts can they have on operations?

Denka: You know, Jim, I would…I would categorize it in twofold. Number one, there is an importance of environmental and personnel safety. And I discussed that before, but the real value is derived at the connected enterprise level. Now, hydrogen initially will be expensive. We all know that. Studies have shown and demonstrated that. But the economics are actually catching up very quickly. And to further increase the base of stations, each operational manager has to show immediate value. So by being able to predict stations’ readiness for filling, right, or communicating to cargo fleet that there are nearby stations ready for service, you can actually increase your footprint, your traffic, your foot traffic through the immediate stations, which would, you know, directly increase the revenue side. But if we look at the other side of the P&L, on the other hand, you’d be able to actually predict the maintenance, the servicing that’s required. You’d be able to reduce overhead and lost hydrogen that would be dispensed out. So you can actually increase your revenue, but you can actually reduce your costs as well. So it’s twofold. The revenue side as well as the cost is something we think and track about.

Jim: Yeah. If you can…you manage the revenue and what you’re doing and the cost side in there, maximizing, basically, your return on your operations for that, that’s really good. Now, without naming particular names, I’m just curious, are there examples you can share of what some companies have done to date?

Denka: Yeah. You know, we have two wins that I wanted to highlight. And like you mentioned, I can’t disclose the names of our customers here. But the first example is with a leading manufacturer that designs the industry’s most reliable, kind of comprehensive range of high-pressure solutions. Their U.K. operations actually had recently launched their hydrogen center to be used to test like single parts through to their fully integrated refueling systems. So they were looking to us as a company to reduce test time since the deadline set forth by the U.K. government had very stringent and strict deadlines to follow. And it was for the entire station rollout. So in essence, they were looking for a partnership to bring uniformity across all of their product lines.

Our offerings that we delivered to them were ASCO valves, Rosemount actuators and flame detectors, as well as TESCOM pressure regulators. So we signed a frame agreement and now continue to supply their U.K. operations. And on the flip side, this was a, you know, a U.K. example. We have one here in the U.S. that the offering was with a U.S.-based firm, their hydrogen steam methane reforming supplier that were looking to increase their fuel station presence along the Northeast. So they were looking for a portfolio solution that was offering the rollout date…the rollout date was set forth by the government, again, with a one-year signed lease that needed to be delivered by. So our offerings included Emerson’s CPE100, our RSTi-EP, some of our HMI, which is the QuickPanel+, and other instruments. They were selected predominantly for their robust data collection, as well as their reporting capabilities. So this helped with their fleet-level connectivity, which allows for operational improvement. And they were looking for future plans to digitize stations’ availability for their motorists. So initially, we won an award for 2 stations, and they wanted to scale up to 25 in the next 5 years.

Jim: Yeah, I’ve got to believe that just with all of the efforts on the production side with green hydrogen, from renewable sources, and blue hydrogen from, I guess, carbon capture and some of the other ways going about it that this is going to continue to grow in there. And it’s really nice to hear about these examples, and really how they’re using a wide part of the portfolio, from the measurements and some of the final control, and the systems, and software to basically make sure you’re operating as efficiently and safely as possible. So that’s great. Well, let’s wind things down. I always like to put people I bring into the podcast right on the spot and ask, what haven’t I asked you that I should have asked you?

Denka: Yeah. Jim, I love it. You know, I think we’ve covered this market in so much detail. And I’ve talked a lot about the pain points, as well as the solutions that we offer. But I think something we should discuss is really the time to market. So this is a relatively brand-new space in terms of mobility. You know, we discussed the upstream, the production side, we’ve been in the space and we see companies moving towards that. It’s important to note the first to market is also very key. You know, Bill Gates, he once famously said, “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next 2 years but famously underestimate the change that will occur in the next 10.” So Emerson has been in the hydrogen space for years. We service our customers to where the market is. We were experts in this. We have done it time and again. But we are also established and positioning ourselves to where we know that the market is heading long term, and our solution range offers all of this.

Jim: Yeah, that is exactly right. You can see this giant transition underway. And that’s just looking at the transportation sector of things and a lot of other applications for hydrogen in there. So that’s encouraging to see that as the shift is being made, we’re working closely with those that are making the change to supply them with automation and information they need to do things effectively. So I guess, finally, where can our listeners go to learn more? And how can they connect with us on any specific questions they might have from listening to our podcast here?

Denka: Yeah. No, you know, number one, I’d like to preface this to anyone listening, Jim, thank you for having me. And our listeners, of course, can always connect with me. Again, my name is Denka Wangdi. And I’m on LinkedIn. But I urge all of our listeners actually to visit the main content hub. The website is, and I’ll go slowly, it’s Emerson.com/SustainabilityContentHub. And sustainability content hub is one word. So again, Emerson.com/SustainabilityContentHub. So all of our offerings from our value in place, or VIPs, along with our value enablers are here. We have a lot of rich content. And I encourage anyone listening to go and log into this website.

Jim: And we’ll also put a link into it from the transcript that we create here. So if you come upon us through the web page, you can link directly from it, or if you’re listening, then you can connect in when you’re back and on your phone, or computer, or whatever else. Well, Denka, I want to thank you so much for joining us today and sharing your perspectives on some of these. So thank you so much.

Denka: No, thank you for having me on, Jim. I really enjoyed it.