Already well established in industrial uses, hydrogen is now angling to conquer hard-to-decarbonize sectors like heavy transport and energy-intensive industries. To ensure its success, infrastructure at a large scale will be needed to support hydrogen’s growth—a gargantuan undertaking that Vallourec is well placed to support, with solutions for large-scale underground storage, pipeline transportation, high-pressure stationary storage, and distribution in refueling stations.

"Vallourec is not only dedicated to validating its product range for hydrogen applications but is also committed to contributing to the market’s upkeep by ensuring the safety of applications,"

To support the emergence of these applications, specific challenges linked to the very nature of the hydrogen molecule need to be tackled. This calls for the adaptation of solutions already validated for other markets, such as oil and gas equivalent applications. With existing standards not fully applicable, it is necessary to devise new testing and qualification protocols and prepare the normative environment of tomorrow, thus helping all stakeholders on the market. Moreover, low-carbon hydrogen still needs to improve its cost-competitiveness versus carbon-emitting alternatives. This is of crucial value to the market and encourages us to enhance the cost-efficiency of our solutions.

Overcoming Hydrogen’s Challenges

Hydrogen comes with specific challenges due to its physical and chemical properties. It has very low energy density per unit of volume, meaning it takes up a lot of space and must be stored at very high pressure, typically up to 1,000 bar for mobility applications. Hydrogen is also known for its potentially detrimental effect on steel materials, known as hydrogen embrittlement, which could lead to the creation and propagation of cracks and thus reduce their mechanical performance. Finally, due to the relatively small size and low viscosity of dihydrogen molecules, leakage is a potential concern when it comes to fittings and connections.

Fortunately, project developers can lean on the knowledge and experience of the very energy industry that hydrogen will eventually replace. Vallourec’s experts are involved in active R&D work providing operators with an expertise they can rely on: know-how in high-pressure applications; corrosive environments such as sour corrosion from H2S, which also results in hydrogen embrittlement and could be controlled thanks to strictly qualified materials for sour service; as well as high-performance VAM® gas-tight connections. These solutions are being tested and validated for new hydrogen applications.

Developing Appropriate Standards

Operators are often confronted with a lack of adequate standards for hydrogen service, with the normative framework from the oil and gas industry not fully applicable to new uses. Vallourec is experienced in developing fit-for-purpose qualification protocols for its customers. Current projects include validating VAM® connections’ tightness and robustness for hydrogen storage wells (and similarly for CO2 storage wells) and drawing parallels with the extensive qualification tests already undergone for natural gas. We are also testing the specific features we anticipate with hydrogen.

Over time, the industry will need shared practices and standards, putting together all expertise and research work to reach common knowledge. At Vallourec, we are taking part in this effort to build and enhance the normative framework of tomorrow through memberships in business associations such as the EPRG (European Pipeline Research Group) and participation in several JIPs (Joint Industry Project).

Bringing More Value to Foster the Hydrogen Economy

Vallourec is not only dedicated to validating its product range for hydrogen applications but is also committed to contributing to the market’s upkeep by ensuring the safety of applications, which is always the first priority. To do so, Vallourec is developing integrity solutions, such as the Intelligent Pipe Solution, which could be customized to further enhance safety control of hydrogen wells using embedded sensors.

Cost reduction is also a key target in order to make hydrogen competitive compared to alternatives. Even if the main focus is on lowering hydrogen production costs, Vallourec is making sure it also minimizes the total cost of ownership for infrastructure components. This will be fostered by solutions that maximize asset lifetime, such as traceability tools to help with predictive maintenance, solutions to repurpose assets for new uses, or alternative designs that provide more cost and energy efficiency.

We are still at the beginning of the journey, in a market that has not yet reached its full potential, and Vallourec is fully committed to offering safe and efficient products for hydrogen and helping the industry design solutions for tomorrow.