Progressive energy companies are rushing to corner the growing hydrogen market, excited as they see this renewable fuel’s cost steadily drop and as they prioritize decarbonization.
As they work to stay ahead of the pack, they need to put time and thought into building out and implementing these projects. There are complex technical and regulatory considerations; safety is also priority one at every step when managing this flammable, compressed gas.
As the market takes off, there is a need for scaled development along the whole supply chain, and some developers are rising to the occasion for more control and more opportunity. Rather than only build fueling stations, they buy into vertically integrated hydrogen networks to produce, transport and distribute hydrogen. But these multifaceted projects present even more complexity— calling for a team with highly specialized, comprehensive skill sets.
SCS Engineers supports energy companies and contractors looking to diversify their hydrogen services portfolio to include building production plants, including moving the gas via pipeline or truck to offload at fueling stations, ultimately selling to consumers.
“We enter these strategic partnerships to give our clients what they are looking for: a full spectrum of competencies and services; and a proven history of working on hydrogen to deliver turnkey projects. The idea is to take the environmental burden off clients as they pursue these major undertakings,” says Nathan Eady, an SCS vice president, and project manager.
SCS makes site selection; performs environmental due diligence and remediation; feasibility analysis; design and construction of environmental controls; land use, air, and water quality permitting.
The contractors’ specializations are detailed design, engineering, and construction management–from civil to structural to mechanical and fire protection.
This team meets all environmental and regulatory design requirements and develops process safety management and risk management plans with their combined expertise. They also take on the role of community educator, explaining the unique attributes of hydrogen and easing any concerns.
“We take science and engineering and translate that for neighbors and city councils. It’s important to show communities, as well as regulators, that these facilities are designed and operated with the utmost safety,” Eady says.
Requirements vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. But with a national reach, SCS sails through processes and regulations by region.
“That matters to our clients; they want to get through the detailed permitting steps and launch as soon as they can to maintain their competitive edge. And when they plan to expand into other regions, they like to know they already have a vetted team in place who knows the territory and can do the work there,” he says.
Permitting and technical considerations vary by location and production method, whether via steam methane reforming (SMR) or electrolysis.
Some operators are taken off-guard by the air quality permitting requirements associated with SMR facilities − or the stringent wildlife and water quality regulations encountered with the larger footprint photovoltaic systems requiring open space to support electrolysis. SCS has the expertise to address the issues, whether state-specific cap and trade regulations for carbon emissions or air basin specific criteria pollutants. SCS also has the unique talent of finding brownfield sites or closed landfill properties, making excellent receiver sites for electrolysis and solar facilities near existing infrastructure.
Building hydrogen projects on these idle properties can save developers significant time and money in the overall project outcome.
“We do a lot of brownfield work helping to clean and redevelop these properties. These sites have special permitting considerations, especially since they typically have a history of industrial use,” Eady says.
SCS performs Phase I Assessments to research records on previous use, and if the team finds a potential problem, they move to Phase II, which entails groundwater and soil testing.
“If we find evidence of existing contamination, we reconcile it so our clients can move forward with the development of their new facilities,” Eady says.
SCS is seeing a growing interest in building hydrogen projects on closed landfills. As brownfields, they have value for their open space and often have some existing infrastructure, offsetting the cost of building new.
“We have done permitting and design work on several closed landfills, sometimes adding solar systems. Hydrogen projects leveraging electrolysis require a tremendous amount of electricity, and when we can bypass the grid enabling clients to make their own electricity, it’s a major plus,” Eady says.
Lately, large energy companies are pivoting from conventional oil and gas to hydrogen, and some smaller, young companies are also joining the clean renewables movement.
SCS has gotten interest from startups looking to obtain government grants and subsidies. Some of these firms need more process engineering support to ensure their new technology can operate at a cost and environmental efficacy equivalent to larger operations.
“We use our knowledge gained working with major conventional energy companies to support these new hydrogen firms in executing successful launches. All in all, a positive trend.”
Together, SCS and its partners play an integral role in helping to see hydrogen continue to climb the energy sector ranks, maintaining an excellent record of accomplishment supporting the planning-design-build of clean-energy plants.