Retrofit or New Build for Hydrogen Testing? What Works at Your Facility

July 19, 2023 - Author: Chris Arnold, Managing Director, ACS Michigan, Ben Longstreet, Lead Instrumentation and Controls Engineer

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4 considerations that will influence your hydrogen infrastructure retrofit

4 Considerations that Will Influence Your Hydrogen Infrastructure Retrofit

As the push for alternative energy moves forward, hydrogen is increasingly being seen as an attractive option. Global demand for hydrogen vehicles has been expanding at an “exceptionally high CAGR” since 2018. It is predicted to grow at 30.8% CAGR for the next ten years, hitting a market size of $675.19 billion by 2033.

One of the most common questions we get from companies looking to move into hydrogen combustion engine and hydrogen fuel cell production is whether they can retrofit their current facility to conduct hydrogen testing.

The answer – of course – is “it depends.”

What Type of Testing are you Planning to Perform?

It is important to fully define your end testing goals and compare these against the space and utilities you currently have available. Testing infrastructure for combustible hydrogen will look different when compared to hydrogen fuel cell testing.

If the space you want to convert is currently testing gas or diesel combustion engines, then your chances are good that it can be cost-efficiently retrofitted for hydrogen combustion testing.

However, there are new safety and space considerations for conducting hydrogen testing of any sort that impact what changes will be needed to any existing test facility to support hydrogen infrastructure.

4 Considerations that will Influence the Feasibility of a Retrofit

#1: Exterior Space Available

A recurring issue we’ve seen on our hydrogen projects is whether the exterior space can handle the space and infrastructure required for hydrogen storage. Whether using swappable trailers or electrolyzing hydrogen on-site, it is critical to define an exterior space that allows for all necessary code clearances and sufficient working space.

#2: Interior Space Available

The introduction of hydrogen into your facility will likely require additional equipment for ventilation, distribution, and safety systems. You’re going to have to fit more items into the same-sized bag with a retrofit. It may be able to be done, but space will likely be a necessary consideration.

#3: Size of Unit(s) Under Test (UUT) and Testing Requirements

An important consideration is to address all variants of your UUT as well as the tests you are planning to perform. Understanding the details of your testing requirements will help to define the testing infrastructure needs.

If you’re converting an existing diesel engine test cell to a combustible hydrogen engine test cell of similar size, chances are much of the testing infrastructure can be reused. Converting an engine cell to test fuel cells will likely require heavier modifications.

#4: Current Design of Ventilation System

Hydrogen’s low density and chances of hazardous accumulation will inevitably require modifications to the existing ventilation and fire detection systems. The question is, “how much?”

The placement and number of sensors, exhaust vents, interlocks, and other equipment all impact the cost to upgrade the existing systems to ones that meet the detection, control, and air turnover requirements for hydrogen testing.

Calculating your breakpoint may come down to safety upgrades

One of your first steps is to conduct a process hazard analysis (PHA) to determine the safety controls and facility systems required for the new hydrogen test space. You then use the outcome of the PHA to evaluate potential upgrade areas and create quick feasibility of upgrading these spaces, helping to narrow in on the best options. Through this evaluation, you’ll gain a clearer idea of the budget to retrofit, which will help you decide if a new build is a better option.

You always want to conduct a PHA, whether you want to build new or retrofit to support hydrogen infrastructure. However, you can do a less formal review to help narrow down which sites you think have potential for a retrofit and merit a PHA.

To guesstimate the scope of the safety upgrade, look at how the space is currently used. How were its original systems sized and designed? How large does the gap seem between how it’s used now and how it will be used to conduct hydrogen testing?

This doesn’t replace conducting the process hazard analysis, but it may help narrow down which sites you think have potential for a retrofit and merit a PHA.

We can help guide you through potential site selection, conduct a PHA for your hydrogen testing requirements, and create budget projections and calculations to determine whether new construction or retrofit makes more sense for you and your business objectives. If you want to set up an initial call, contact us here.