On-site Hydrogen Generation Making Its Way To A Powerplant Near You

A recent blog post discussed a new hydrogen generation technology that converted natural gas or methane into hydrogen fuel. The on-site hydrogen generator could just as easily be used to convert methane from decomposing biomass into hydrogen.

According to many experts,, this is the holy grail for renewable power. It will be able to generate hydrogen cost-effectively for fuel cell vehicles but also for class-8 trucks and even power plants.

Modern Electron pyrolysis technologies use existing natural gas distribution networks to deliver methane where clean hydrogen is needed.

This distributed technology splits carbon from methane gas at the application location and delivers clean hydrogen with no associated CO2. This technology lends itself to various industrial, commercial, and high-density residential use cases where low carbon intensity is prioritized and operations teams don’t want to deal with the logistics complexities associated with hydrogen deliveries.

While future class-8 truck and vehicle fueling stations could be running on hydrogen, the most immediate use cases for hydrogen are in industrial and commercial applications. This article will explore the essential hydrogen use case as a cooling agent in power plants.

On-site Hydrogen Gas Generators for Power Plants

It is no secret that modern power plants must do all they can to produce electricity cost-effectively. That’s why they look to cut corners in just about every aspect of the business; the good news is that a relatively simple switch to hydrogen gas can significantly impact their bottom line. This significant impact is more eco-friendly, thanks to on-site hydrogen gas generators.

Power plants increasingly rely on hydrogen gas to keep their generators cool, an approach that has served the power generation community for decades but has inherent safety risks and various inefficiencies. However, many forward-thinking power plants like Puerto Rico are now swapping out hydrogen delivery services and on-site storage tanks for distributed hydrogen generators.

This change has helped improve the efficiency of these power plants, making the facilities safer while producing 99.995 percent hydrogen purity and consequently saving the power generation company millions.

Puerto Rico An Excellent Case Study For On-Site Hydrogen Generators

Puerto Rico is perhaps an excellent case study for adopting on-site hydrogen generation by power plants. Aguirre Power Plant in San Juan produces a third of the electricity for the country.

The power plants are owned by Puerto Rico Electric Authority (PREPA), with two 450 MW generators. Until 2010 the staff at the powerplant would maintain a hydrogen gas tank with 75000 SCF needed to cool the generators for optimal operating efficiency.

Later, the power plant swapped out those tanks for an on-site hydrogen generator, a switch that helped improve the plant’s efficiency while making it safer and saving millions thanks to its relatively low cost.

Hydrogen gas tanks can be a safety hazard. With a 75k SCF tank equivalent to over 5500 lbs of TNT, it’s not hard to see how one wrong move can destroy the power plant and everything in the neighborhood.

Power plant managers also know that delivered hydrogen requires a specialized workforce to align large gas trucks, manage the transfer of tanks, refill the vessels, etc.

The costs associated with these processes can add up quickly because transporting hydrogen isn’t cheap. In the case of the Puerto Rican power plant, this was hundreds of thousands of dollars each year.

On-site hydrogen production does away with the risk associated with refilling and storing hydrogen, which isn’t even as efficient. Compounding these issues is the variability of the gas’s purity, pressure, and dew point, all of which can be addressed with on-site generation.

The Matter of Purity With A Hydrogen Supply

Power plant managers understand that there is a correlation between the purity of hydrogen gas produced and its ability to adequately cool the generator. Essentially hydrogen purity affects a plant’s efficiency.

Impurities in hydrogen can increase its density, and the resulting dense gas will impede the gas’ ability to remove heat from the power generation system. The most common impurity is air, especially within the gas generator casing. Also, because air is 14.4x denser than hydrogen, even low amounts of air will considerably raise the density of hydrogen, making it less efficient.

Fortunately, with on-site hydrogen gas generation, it is possible to control the purity of the hydrogen gas generated. For instance, the purity produced was around 96 percent at the Aguirre plant. According to the engineers at the plant, for every 1 percent of the air that mixes with hydrogen, there is a 224 kW reduction in power production efficiency.

Since carbon dioxide is far less thermally conductive and 22x denser than hydrogen, it has an even more significant impact on a plant’s production capacity. This translates to a 345-kW reduction in power production efficiency for every 1 percent of carbon dioxide.

On-Site Production Eliminates Most Inefficiencies In The System

When the Aguirre power plant got fed up with the cost and hassle associated with their hydrogen delivery and storage process, they turned to a local engineering firm for help. The firm installed a hydrogen generator to supply the hydrogen gas needed to support both 450 MW power generators.

Unlike many hydrogen generators in the US, this Aguirre facility hydrogen generator uses deionized water and electricity to produce hydrogen at 200 PSIG, with 99.995 percent purity. Since the system is on-site, the company does not have to procure 75,000 SCF of gas each month or manage the transfer of tanks around the otherwise unattended operation.

Now the only significant expense is paying for deionized water and the cost of electricity to make a 64 SCF of hydrogen gas each hour. This helped slash the plant’s hydrogen budget to just $16k, saving tens of thousands yearly.

If anything, this use of on-site hydrogen generation in Puerto Rico proves that the gas can be generated reliably on site. Plus, it offers many cost-saving and efficiency benefits that plants in the US are just beginning to realize. This is a compelling snapshot of the potential offered by highly efficient on-site hydrogen generation.