Tshwane-based specialised engineering solutions company Rand Technical Services (RTS) recently became the pan-African distributor and principal agent of Norway-based compression and storage solutions company Hystorsys’ gas compression tech- nology, which has minimal mechanical parts and, therefore, reduces maintenance requirements.
RTS chairperson Ian Fraser says the compressor has been under development for some time and that Hystorsys is ramping up for full global production of the compressor.
He notes that key features of the gas compression technology are that there are few mechanical parts involved in the compression process and large volumes of gas can be stored in a small space.
The compressor is also able to operate at almost no energy cost, as it uses waste heat. As a result, the metal hydride compressors developed by Hystorsys have a very low maintenance level and, hence, also a low maintenance cost.
“Solid matter consists mostly of space. The metal hydride technology exploits this fact by making the subatomic spaces available for storage of gas components. A special group of metals can absorb and release hydrogen. Together, the hydrogen and the metal form so-called metal hydrides.
“The hydrogen is chemically bound to the metal at an atomic level and, therefore, is in the gas phase and is no longer volatile. The metal hydride alloys are processed into a fine powder and stored in a pressure vessel. By means of a defined thermal management process, a metal hydride compressor compresses hydrogen in a safe and energy efficient manner – absorbing hydrogen at low pressure and releasing it at high pressure. Pres- sures up to 800 bar are feasible with this technology,” says Fraser.
He adds that Hystorsys realised that if hydrogen is heated in a phased manner, it will result in a continuous flow of compressed hydrogen. “So one has a hydrogen compressor with no moving parts. The only replaceable parts on the compressor are the solenoid valves. This is significant for the industry because it means that we may move towards a future where there is no longer a need for reciprocating compressors. The new compressors experience very little ‘wear and tear’ because of the absence of moving parts and, therefore, there is minimal maintenance, lower operational costs and less downtime.”
Another key feature of the compressors is the range of industries it can be used in. In fact, any hydrogen-dependent application will benefit from this technology. As the hydrogen energy industry develops with cars and other vehicles converting to hydrogen fuel, this technology will offer significant and increasing benefits.
However, Fraser says that two of the largest industries which could potentially benefit from the technology are the power generation and the metal production industries.
The power generation industry uses hydrogen to provide a low-resistance atmosphere in large generators. South Africa is also a key supplier of steel locally and internationally, and the use of gas compression technology in the steel annealing process means that manufacturers are able to achieve increased efficiency and reduced costs.
“The compressors are in the final stages of development before their global release,” Fraser concludes.