US annual hydrogen capacity was approximately 3.6 billion cubic feet per year (Bcf/yr) as of January 2020, 68% of which is used in petroleum processing, according to the US Department of Energy (DOE). The Covid-19 pandemic has had a detrimental impact on the refinery hydrogen business as mitigation efforts significantly reduced population mobility, reducing demand on petroleum products. The merchant hydrogen business faired better during Covid-19 as the applications are more diversified.
Hydrogen remains a long-term solid growth platform for the industrial gas industry. In large volumes, industrial gas companies continue to supply hydrogen through their on-site pipeline (OSP) businesses to oil and gas refineries, basic and specialty chemical manufacturers, and food processors. In smaller volumes, merchant liquid hydrogen is supplied via bulk liquid, tube trailer, and cylinder and used in a wide range of applications including metallurgy, electronics, aerospace, food hydrogenation, glass, electrical power generation, and fuel cells which is experiencing the fastest growth. After years of anticipation, hydrogen fuel cells are gaining momentum as cost and performance has improved.
The greatest demand for hydrogen continues to be in the petroleum sector, where strict environmental regulations for clean air require lower sulfur fuels. Continuing to drive the hydrogen business for industrial gas companies in the future will be the shift toward sale of gas (SOG) and hydrogen for chemicals in emerging markets; the acquisition/replacement of aging steam methane reformers (SMRs); and heavy/sour crude processing capability.
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