Load cells can help optimize green hydrogen production

Green hydrogen production is an increasingly important piece of the renewable energy movement, and a new enough industry that it's one in which numerous start-ups around the world are playing key roles. It is also just the latest sector to benefit from sensor-based force testing and measurement, which is used in many facets of manufacturing to monitor and optimize machines to keep them running at their best.

Central to the green hydrogen production process are machines called electrolyzers, which use electricity to separate hydrogen molecules from oxygen molecules in water, and then pass the hydrogen on to be used in sustainable applications and as the basis for driving decarbonization.

Electrolyzers are complex, involving the stacking of multiple anode and cathode plates with a membrane between each, and with long tie-rod assemblies holding them in place. “For maximum production, [green hydrogen companies with electrolyzers] need to make sure that the stacks stay at a certain amount of preload tension,” said Brian Peters, vice president of global sales at Interface Force Measurement System, which makes load cells and force sensor solution often used to monitor the load, tension, resistance, weight, or total pressure applied, and other aspects of machinery and equipment used in various manufacturing environment.

As with many machines, over time various parts of the electrolyzer stacks can wear out or otherwise require downtime for scheduled maintenance to keep them running well. By using load cells to monitor the electrolyzer assemblies, manufacturers can track wear and tear of machines, make sure they are precisely calibrated to carry out their functions, and even help them optimize performance. The load cells send signals via wired or, increasingly, wireless connections to the laptops of production personnel.

“We feel we can bring some value through long-term force monitoring that will trigger any sort of maintenance work as needed, rather than on a regularly scheduled basis,” Peters said. “So that equates to large savings, large reduction in personnel investment to maintain the electrolyzer stacks, and less overall downtime.”

In bringing force monitoring to the green hydrogen production industry, Interface may be catching a tiger by the tail, as the sector is growing rapidly and expanding globally, and in many cases is being led by start-ups that are continually looking to improve and optimize their production processes to become more competitive and gain a better return on their investments in electrolyzers and other equipment.

“The exciting thing is just this, this whole market is still in its infancy,” Peters said. “These companies are really just figuring out where they're going to take this. The functionality is there, the capabilities there, and now, it's a matter of bringing optimization into it and making production more scalable.”

Interface already has been involved in monitoring other types of green energy infrastructure, including wind and solar energy production, Peters said, making the decarbonization movement a rising revenue producer. Even in green hydrogen production, the company sees a developing need to measure other aspects of hydrogen production infrastructure, such as valves and other parts and machines. 

“There are going to be spin-offs [from electrolyzer monitoring],” he said. “As they produce more there's going to be increased requirements for gas, plumbing and valves associated with all of that, which we provide a lot of monitoring sensors for. It's gonna be interesting to see where it all goes.”

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