“We see hydrogen as a potential ‘new wave’ oil and gas, and we are committed to supporting the growth and development of this market in the UK and worldwide.”
Those were the words of Jake Martin, Commercial Manager for Hydrogen at Chesterfield Special Cylinders (CSC). The UK-based high-pressure gas containment specialist revealed in early July that it had signed a five-year Framework Agreement with Shell Hydrogen to supply hydrogen storage cylinders for use at refuelling stations across Europe.
The agreement is based on ground storage solutions, required for safely and efficiently storing hydrogen at high pressure, with CSC having developed a ‘highly effective’ solution for Shell’s hydrogen refuelling station needs.
It marks the latest step in CSC’s own journey in pressure vessels, having been manufacturing cylinders for over 100 years. The company is a recognised global specialist in this field, supplying safety-critical products to demanding standards across a diverse range of global markets, including defence, oil and gas, power generation and space exploration.
Specialist knowledge and expertise are required for hydrogen to realise its vast potential as nations seek to build and expand green transport networks and drive lower emissions. That knowledge and expertise is held by specialists like CSC.
“Some of the very first cylinders we manufactured were used in compressed hydrogen gas applications,” says Martin in an exclusive interview with H2 View. “Today, the growing hydrogen energy sector is one of our most exciting markets.”
“Our product is not simply a cylinder, but rather a complete engineered solution to the challenges of storing hydrogen at high-pressure. We develop the solution from initial design through First Time Engineering (FTE) into manufacture and continue to support performance through-life with our world-class Integrity Management service. Periodic in-situ inspection is carried out in line with demanding international standards using advanced inspection techniques and our many years of experience. This integrated approach helps provide the highest level of assurance needed for safety-critical hydrogen storage and fuelling applications.”
So when did this zest for hydrogen first begin? “Our hydrogen focus started over two years ago with in-depth market research and detailed technical studies to understand the needs of system developers and operators in the nascent industry,” Martin explains. “The placement of two major projects for bus refuelling infrastructure signalled our first commercial success and this was further cemented with subsequent contracts for retail sites serving both cars and HGVs.”
“Working closely with our customers and partners at the front end to define an optimal high-pressure storage solution is fundamental to meeting the technical and commercial requirements of the end-user or operator. CSC has already developed and supplied hydrogen storage systems rated in excess of 700 bar for refuelling infrastructure within Europe, and has now formulated a highly effective solution with Shell.”
“We expect that carefully developed and tested standard designs will help facilitate and accelerate market growth by making it easy for potential developers and operators to specify integrated solutions and invest in new infrastructure. This approach has been fruitful so far and our project pipeline and order book continue to grow on the basis of continued collaboration with customers.”
Its latest announcement with Shell is indeed one of those collaborations.
It comes at a time of significant progress in hydrogen markets, particularly in Europe with the official launch of the keenly awaited EU Hydrogen Strategy. In fact, CSC’s partnership with Shell Hydrogen came just hours after that watershed announcement from the European Commission.
Read more: EU unveils hydrogen strategy
“It is no secret that this is a very exciting development for CSC. This contract demonstrates our ability to provide a high-quality solution for Shell and its progressive refuelling station strategy,” Martin enthuses.
“Growth in the hydrogen energy market is a strategic focus for CSC and our parent company, Pressure Technologies plc. We see hydrogen as a potential ‘new wave’ oil and gas and we are committed to supporting the growth and development of this market in the UK and worldwide. Our proven expertise has given us the opportunity to work with other pioneers in this field and I am proud that our team has been able work with Shell Hydrogen. We look forward to the further collaboration ahead.”
Shell became the first branded fuel retailer to sell hydrogen at one of its retail sites in the UK in 2017 – a significant year for the company when it comes to hydrogen as it became a founding member of the Hydrogen Council and also published a report into hydrogen’s future potential – and has since grown its network of hydrogen stations across Europe and North America to encourage the adoption of hydrogen in transport systems.
With a flourishing footprint of hydrogen projects around the world ever since and territorial differences in standards, Shell needed a specialist partner to provide a precise, highly reliable and versatile technical solution. This is perhaps what makes its agreement with CSC stand out beyond the headline details of the tie-up; a lot of hard work and expertise has gone into the development of CSC’s new ground storage solutions, and Martin acknowledges their significance going forward.
“Our technical knowledge and expertise are key to our business and the integrity of our products, regardless of the market or application, and we continue to contribute our knowledge and stay up-to-date through our role on key international standards committees,” he says.
“As an example of this activity, CSC co-wrote the British and EU standards that govern periodic inspection and testing of cylinders in the field. With respect to the Shell Framework Agreement, the process of becoming approved for such a contract has been a year in the making. Working closely with Shell to define a solution was critical for the EU market; technical teams from CSC and Shell worked closely to establish the design parameters and have in turn helped formulate highly effective solutions for Shell’s EU stations.”
“For any application across sites worldwide,” he adds, “CSC will determine the most appropriate standard in line with the customer’s requirements. The driving parameters might be weight, cylinder dimensions, gas capacity or cyclic loading. From these parameters, we are able to optimise the design to provide the most efficient solution possible.”
A key term here is standardisation. There is consensus that standardisation or even harmonisation is key to enabling a product or a market to truly grow as hoped and expected, with Martin noting that the hydrogen market in particular has historically been ‘relatively fragmented’.
“Standardisation of a product is vital in a market that is seeing such growth. The hydrogen market has historically been relatively fragmented, with many smaller integrators defining what is needed for a specific project. Scalability is not easily achieved in such cases.”
“The Framework Agreement contains a scalable modular design for ground storage. Backed by Shell’s pedigree in the energy sector, I believe that this framework agreement outlines a safe and highly effective solution for potential developers and operators. It is easier to do business if the technical due diligence has already been completed, in this case by Shell and CSC.”
Asked if CSC knows where these solutions will be deployed under the agreement, Martin explains that he cannot directly comment, but does affirm that the framework agreement covers the EU and UK.
This brings us back to the topic of Europe and the tipping point position that the region finds itself in with hydrogen. As already described, news of the agreement came after a historic few days for hydrogen in Europe, with the European Commission unveiling its keenly anticipated hydrogen strategy aimed at decarbonising hydrogen production and expanding its use in sectors where it can replace fossil fuels.
Martin acknowledges the excitement and sense of opportunity that this creates for a company like CSC and so many others. “These are exciting times for us all,” he says. “Not just for those businesses who are working to deliver on the new strategy but for society in general, given clean air and climate change are such important issues.”
“The advent of such a compelling announcement in the form of the EU’s hydrogen strategy should mean businesses will start ‘gearing up’ to push this change. CSC and our parent company Pressure Technologies plc are proud to be supporting this movement.”
“Hopefully, this change will herald more investment to support innovation and facilitate the development of hydrogen into a major part of Europe’s energy strategy.”
In closing, the thought is very much on meeting the expected demand ahead as a result. Does this present a challenge for CSC, albeit a welcome one? “I see various challenges and opportunities ahead. Demand will rise, given the prospect activity that we see in both the US and EU; we have been investing in our operations to meet the demand in these areas,” Martin suggests.
“In this rapidly moving market, we are keen to demonstrate how our products can fit the wide range of customer projects and storage configurations. Our Type 1 steel cylinder solutions are more suited to static storage than Type 3 or 4 composite, where weight is less of an issue. Periodic inspection, revalidation and life extension are also easier to achieve on Type 1 installations.”
“CSC and our partners have worked very hard to produce safe and reliable hydrogen fuelling systems to mirror the ‘forecourt’ experience that conventional vehicle fuelling is based upon.”
He adds, “Our strategy of providing through-life support to the end-user for pressure vessels will continue to be developed, both commercially and technologically, to provide the product assurance the market needs.”