Leading the way in energy transition process
On October 20, 2022, the virtual grand opening event of the Hydrogen Innovation Lab was held. This project saw the building of a multifunctional facility where hydrogen can be produced by electrolysis and used, where blending of hydrogen and natural gas can be done, and the readiness of devices used along existing networks can be tested.
How the Hydrogen Innovation Lab came to be
Pietro Fiorentini began its hydrogen-journey in December 2018, by taking part in the Hy4Heat project conference in London. This event marked the beginning of the development of solutions in the hydrogen field. Already at this stage, the need emerged to test the behavior of existing natural gas products for their behavior with hydrogen. Because of the difficulty in finding external laboratories, and with the desire to be able to conduct extensive testing firsthand, the idea of designing a hydrogen laboratory came to the fore.
The end result is a complete facility, consisting of a hydrogen production area, a room in which blending of hydrogen and natural gas is carried out, and the actual laboratory in which existing devices are tested with hydrogen and natural gas blending or 100% hydrogen.
Challenges in implementation
The implementation of the Hydrogen Innovation Lab was not easy. There were not many precedents to refer to: even today, the topic of hydrogen use on distribution networks is not very thorough and we are in a phase of uncertainty, including regulatory uncertainty.
For this reason, the initial design required a lot of effort. Even before the functional aspects, Pietro Fiorentini addressed safety issues in great depth through a thorough risk analysis.
The effort of the team that worked together to bring these challenges to fruition was rewarded by the great interest Pietro Fiorentini received when requests for support began arriving from historical clients in the natural gas world, eager to learn more about the opportunities that hydrogen brings.
At the heart of the Hydrogen Innovation Lab
The Hydrogen Innovation Lab is designed to work with hydrogen gas from the generator, located upstream of the facility, and with normal gas coming from gas network. The practice of working with two gases, specifically hydrogen and natural gas, mixing them in varying percentages, is called hydrogen blending. The parameters to be considered for hydrogen blending are mainly pressure, temperature, flow rate, and humidity of the mixture.
Because hydrogen and natural gas have different inlet pressures, there are two separate lines that make an initial pressure jump so that almost identical mixing pressures and temperatures are achieved. Hydrogen blending is handled through a mixing station consisting of three mass flow controllers, two on the hydrogen line and one on the natural gas line: these are flow meters connected to a electrovalve with continuous regulation. Once the desired mixture is set, the control system precisely adjusts the opening of the valves to ensure the correct flow rates on the two branches of the circuit and keep the final mixture balanced. The laboratory is designed to be able to generate any mixture between the two gases, up to and including working exclusively with hydrogen.
Before mixtures with hydrogen can be injected into existing networks, it is necessary to be sure that the products used for pressure management and fiscal measurement are suitable for this purpose through a common path of study, experimentation, and observation to test materials and performance of the devices. The Hydrogen Innovation Lab was also created to evaluate the readiness of the instruments used along the network, that is, their ability to handle different mixtures of hydrogen and natural gas. Within the laboratory, various flow tests are carried out on regulators and meters with pure hydrogen or mixtures whose quality is verified in real time by gas chromatographic analysis. The test bench for testing the meters follows the indications reported in a recently published scientific article, with Pietro Fiorentini among the authors.
An innovation centre for the community
The purpose of Pietro Fiorentini’s Hydrogen Innovation Lab is not only to be a simple testing area for the Group’s products: the main objective of building the laboratory is to make it a true development accelerator, a catalyst for the creation of new technologies that can generate comparison and innovative solutions together with other entities and companies in the sector, creating a hub of excellence for Italy.
In addition to this comparison, it is also necessary to interface with the final consumer, since the energy transition necessarily starts with the users who must see new technologies as an opportunity and not a threat: that is why the Hydrogen Innovation Lab also wants to be an educational and informative centre for the community.