By: Buffalo Manufacturing Works Team | October 12th, 2020

The energy economy is experiencing a shift away from oil and
gas sources as European nations and states, such as California, impose
legislation on utilization and sourcing. A primary, would-be displacer of
natural gas in the utility space is hydrogen (or chem + hydrogen hybrid fuels).
In most cases, the preference of industry would be to utilize legacy
infrastructure to transport and store next-generation fuels. However, it is
unclear whether the integrity threats associated with the handling of natural
gas are equivalent in transportation and storage of high hydrogen fuel stocks.

The principal integrity threat from a metallurgical standpoint is a mechanism known as hydrogen embrittlement. Hydrogen gas dissociates into hydrogen protons and infiltrates the microstructure of metallic components. The transported hydrogen collects around defects and degrades mechanical properties. The reduced toughness and load capacity can subsequently lead to brittle fracture and premature failure. The following illustration is a representation of hydrogen infiltration leading to embrittlement:

Schematic depicting the hydrogen infiltration that leads to metal embrittlement.

To ensure safety during conversion to a hydrogen economy,
the industry needs to consider the threats associated with the utilization of
legacy assets. Due to their metallurgical histories and inherent susceptibilities,
many of those materials are potentially vulnerable to embrittlement. Large
scale conversion to hydrogen as an increasingly viable energy source highlights
the need for the development of new materials with implicit resistance to hydrogen-specific
degradation mechanisms. This new frontier will bring new requirements for
joining methodologies, materials characterization, monitoring and NDE
capabilities, and a thorough understanding of the technical trends in the
evolution of the hydrogen economy at large.

To learn more about EWI’s work to address materials and integrity
issues within the U.S. energy infrastructure, contact Josh James at [email protected].

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