Plant Design for Hydrogen How to Provide Efficient Plant Design for Compact Hydrogen Electrolyzers

A guest post by Katrin Ehrenleitner* |

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Successful integration of green hydrogen into production networks – Compact electrolysis plants, powered by green electricity, could help to solve the issue of energy storage, providing power and raw materials available for a wide range of applications. But setting up a container plant is not enough: Sahll the decentralized H2 production become a success, it needs to be suitably integrated and connected. Is the energy transition a matter of plant planning and design?

Plant manufacturer Igas Energy has turned its focus here to the high-pressure PEM electrolysis of water.
Plant manufacturer Igas Energy has turned its focus here to the high-pressure PEM electrolysis of water.
(Source: Igas Energy)

Solar cells on every roof, wonder wind turbines and small electrolysis plants: The transition towards green energy is highly decentralized. But how to utilize all that green electricity? And what can be done, if sun, wind and water don't comply with the energy demands? Green hydrogen, produced in decentralized electrolysis plants, could offer a perspective. With this vision in mind, engineering companies like Igas Energy, a German based plant construction company, develop compact production concepts like the Green Electrolyzer. The plant design utilizes a state-of-the-art high-pressure proton-exchange-membrane-electrolysis process (PEM), which combines high current and power densities with good functionality in partial and overload scenarios. Furthermore, PEM electrolyzers only need distilled water, since the electrodes are directly mounted onto the membrane, making them good candidates for the buffering of voltage peaks within the grid.

Yet, the breakthrough of PEM electrolyzers makes it even more important for companies to bring their "green hydrogen" plants on the market as quickly as possible. For the design and planning of efficient installations, Igas energy searched for an all-around solution that integrated process engineering, 3D planning, and mechanical design. “It was important to us to be able to work in a single environment, to avoid media discontinuity and therefore to reduce error rates,” stated Dipl.-Ing. Karl-Heinz Lentz, founder and managing director of Igas energy.

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The company thus relied on the help of Smap3D Plant Designand its 2D/3D CAD integrated piping design software solution based on over 30 years of experience in the areas of construction, process engineering, and pipeline production. The software development company specializes in medium-sized machine and plant manufacturers and therefore, was able to draw on a full range of products for this project. Karl-Heinz Lentz added “Thankfully, we have found a solution partner that has a proven track record of practical experience in plant design. This meant that challenges could already be discussed at a high level during the consultation phase and constructive ideas could be brought forward so that we could find the right solution for our requirements.”

High Efficiency for Compact Hydrogen Plants

The Green Electrolyzer, which produces around 5.000 to 6.000 Nm³ of hydrogen per hour is designed for unmanned operation and requires only water in addition to electricity. At the heart of the system are compact stacks with an efficiency of over 80 % (4,47 kWh/Nm³ H2) and with a current density of two A/cm². The system is modular in design and very compact - especially when integrated with a container for outdoor operation. The pipelines running to and within the unit must be planned precisely because there is only limited space available. This is where the professional software for detailed and consistent 3D piping and plant design comes into play: Smap3D Plant Design is fully integrated into the existing CAD solution and includes P&ID for process engineering, 3D piping for pipeline planning, and isometric for pipeline production. The application maps the entire process chain from the 2D flow diagrams up to the isometrics and thus enables a smooth and loss-free transfer between modules.

Another decisive reason for choosing this solution was that Igas Energy requires very accurate design constructions for its complex process-engineering systems, which other solutions on the market could not reproduce. This can be illustrated with the example of valves: In conventional CAD software, valves are usually depicted symbolically. However, it is not apparent to the plant designer how much space is available around the valve to be able to operate it manually or replace it in real operation. With Smap3D Plant Design, however, this is possible.

“With detailed planning in CAD, we can ensure that the system is easy to operate and maintain. The replacement of a valve in the later phase of the system's life will not become a cost trap for us and our customers.” explained Karl-Heinz Lentz.

Integrated User Support Accelerates Introduction of Electrolyzer Technology

In addition to the integrated software solution, the software provider's holistic customer support was also a key factor to success. “Our focus lay particularly on the introduction and implementation of the solution so that Igas Energy ccould work quickly and productively, which not only benefits the business but ultimately also the environment” stated Maxim Lich, managing director of Smap3D Plant Design. Among other things, the supplied standard parts library and the already large selection of predefined industrial pipe classes for the 3D planning of the environmental plants have been expanded to include further required standard parts and corresponding pipe classes.

In addition, the software development house has conducted several training courses for the engineers to familiarize them with the optimal use of the new software. “The fully integrated solution and the strong support in the implementation phase was our driving force. Thanks to the fast and efficient 3D plant and piping design, our business in the energy and environment sector was able to take off in full swing,” Karl-Heinz Lentz was pleased to announce. Even after implementation, the software provider assists the Igas energy team with its support and maintenance services. “Now, during ongoing operation, we use the support hotline, which always provides us with reliable assistance. If we have a problem, they always have a sympathetic ear and a solution ready at hand," adds Lentz.

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* *The author is a specialist at Smap3D Plant Design