We are supporting customers during their transition to hydrogen with our material solutions: Rohit Ojha, Lead Scientist, Technical Marketing Specialist, Alleima

In an exclusive interview with Pravin Prashant, Editor, Indian Chemical News, Rohit Ojha, Lead Scientist, Technical Marketing Specialist, Alleima shared views on hydrogen market scenario and company’s latest initiatives in this space.

  • August 31, 2023

How do you look at the hydrogen opportunity for the company globally? Size of hydrogen market that Alleima is targeting in the next two years? 

We see hydrogen as a megatrend and an important resource for the world, especially with the increasing push to reduce carbon emissions for the last five to ten years. However, it is difficult to put an exact number. Our customers in energy have also shared that hydrogen has gained significant prominence in their processes, and within the industry, hydrogen has become a central theme in conferences focusing on engineering or technology.

Alleima is committed to supporting our customers in their hydrogen transition journey. In the hydrogen market, we have different focus areas. In India, we primarily focus on fuel injection lines for automotives, hydrogen refuelling stations, and specialized industrial equipment using heat exchangers.

Challenges that you foresee with respect to materials technology and hydrogen? 

Hydrogen is a very peculiar molecule that can affect materials in a significant way. Hydrogen embrittlement can happen when a material is exposed to high-pressure hydrogen, which can cause it to lose some of its important properties like ductility and elongation because hydrogen is very difficult to detect and can cause catastrophic failures, its management and impact on materials are very important matters to take note of.

And how do you plan to rectify this?

Hydrogen is not a new phenomenon, and industries have been handling its applications for several decades. Our experience in hydrogen has allowed us to gain a better understanding and develop materials that perform well under such conditions. We have conducted extensive testing in high-pressure hydrogen environments to prove that some of the alloys from our existing portfolio have excellent hydrogen embrittlement resistance. Additionally, we have produced specific classes of materials, particularly high-performance stainless steels, that have demonstrated excellent resistance. As a result, we have a large portfolio of materials that we are actively introducing to our customers.

Steps that one needs to follow to choose the right materials for hydrogen technology? 

If you look at any application, not just specific to hydrogen, the first step is to always understand its conditions by considering important parameters like temperature, pressure, and operating environment. In the case of pure hydrogen, temperature and pressure are the two primary factors to consider.

The second step is to work closely with our customers, leveraging our expertise and experience in various applications to provide customized material solutions that align with the specific requirements for their applications.

Alleima alloy goes into different aspects of hydrogen manufacturing and transmission so one needs to be careful while choosing the right material. Steps to be taken to choose the right material?

Hydrogen applications can be tricky because of possible hydrogen leakages. Choosing the right material for hydrogen applications requires a thorough and cautious approach, so we conduct rigorous testing in extremely severe conditions to ensure our materials can withstand the challenges. For example, when an application operates at 350 bars of pressure, we subject our materials to even higher pressures during the testing phase to verify their suitability.

The choice of material can also depend on the pressure in the application. Legacy alloys may be suitable for lower pressure and pure hydrogen applications, but for high-pressure applications exceeding 1,000 bars, specialized materials are required.

Bouquet of products from Alleima which form part of the hydrogen ecosystem?

Austenitic steels are known to have good hydrogen embrittlement resistance. Alleima 3R60, positioned at the top end of the ASTM 316L specification, exhibits excellent properties and easily withstands hydrogen exposure, making it an ideal solution for various hydrogen applications. We have observed through our tests that the alloys at the lower end of the ASTM 316 specification do not perform well in terms of hydrogen embrittlement.

Sanicro 35, our latest innovation, is an alloy combining the best features of a super austenitic stainless steel and a nickel alloy. The grade has excellent corrosion resistance, for service in sea-water applications and other highly corrosive environments. It is another material that demonstrates great potential for utilization in refineries that handle hydrogen.

How can Kanthal help Alleima to provide hydrogen solutions?

Industries are increasingly realizing the advantages and competitive edges associated with cleaner heating technologies across sectors such steel, cement, and petrochemicals. Kanthal, an Alleima company, is presently engaged to create an extensive array of high-temperature electric process gas heaters designed to facilitate the transition to electrification and the reduction of carbon-intensive processes. One particularly in-demand technology, Direct Reduction of Iron Ore, requires the heating of substantial amounts of hydrogen gas at elevated pressures and high flow rates. Kanthal is actively developing breakthrough electrical heating solutions tailored for such processes. These solutions offer outstanding efficiency, dependability, and operational stability, along with compatibility and scalability.

How will acquisition of Gerling, a German based precision tube engineering company, strengthen the position of Alleima in the hydrogen refuelling station market? 

Our acquisition of Gerling, now Alleima engineering solutions, will allow us to harness our expertise in materials and combine it with Gerling’s engineering solutions. Together, we have pioneered mobile, digitally connected on-site tubing solutions, enabling precise tube straightening and cutting, reducing the need for material joining and minimizing loss of material due to length requirements. These on-site tubing solutions also facilitate in reducing the number of joints that are required at fuelling stations, streamlining the engineering process and enhancing the efficiency of our solutions.

Clients which have signed Alleima for the hydrogen project with respect to fuel cell technology and onsite high pressure tubing for hydrogen refuelling stations?

In India, I would say that we are partners with most of the automotive companies, working closely with them on fuel cells and hydrogen internal combustion engines. As a result, we extensively supply our materials for the fuel injection lines and hydrogen refuelling stations to all the companies in India working in this area. Today, Alleima stands as the exclusive material solution provider in the hydrogen space.

Outside of India, we have a wide array of global clients in the fuel cell industry. One notable product we offer is the bipolar plates for fuel cell applications. From fuel cells to hydrogen integration into internal combustion engines, we have a growing list of customers domestically and globally.

New developments on the R&D front with respect to the hydrogen ecosystem? How will it be helpful in the long run?

Alleima has very strong roots in R&D and innovation, which have been the backbone of our success for over 160 years. We are constantly on our toes and continuously develop cutting-edge materials for various applications, including hydrogen. We have a very vibrant portfolio of research projects focused on advancing materials for hydrogen, and are introducing more of these products to the market in the coming years.

How is Alleima balancing safety and performance with respect to hydrogen?

Safety is paramount when it comes to handling hydrogen, therefore materials require stringent tests to prove that they are suitable for these applications. However, many of these tests need to be done in highly specialized facilities that may not be readily available everywhere. At Alleima, we conduct extensive testing in international laboratories to validate the suitability of our materials, especially at very high working pressures.

How do you see Alleima moving forward with respect to hydrogen?

It is a very exciting market for Alleima. As the world rapidly embraces hydrogen technology, we are here, ready to support our customers on their journey by providing our existing solutions and continuously innovating to develop new solutions to meet the demands of challenging applications.

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