By: Editorial Team Reading time: 3 Minutes


Gray hydrogen with environ­mental benefits

In the Czech town of Bruntál, two steam reformers are supplying hydrogen (H₂) directly to manufacturing facilities that produce pure tungsten and other products. The new plant will eliminate about 700 truck deliveries per year.

Hydrogen likes oxygen. That’s why the reactive gas will someday completely replace the coal that metallurgy requires for reduction, the chemical reaction that removes oxygen from raw materials such as iron oxide to obtain pure metal. Up till now, the steel industry has primarily used coke for this purpose. The facility in Bruntál has always used hydrogen to extract tungsten from an oxide compound.

Growing H₂ demand

A rare metal that is extremely hard, tungsten’s 3,422°C melting point is the highest of all elements. Product application examples include hard metal tools and filaments. Since 1998, Messer has been supplying hydrogen for the reduction furnaces which are used to extract pure tungsten powder from tungsten oxide in Bruntál. “Production has grown steadily over the years” says Vít Tuček, who is responsible for green hydrogen business

development at Messer in the Czech Republic. “The hydrogen demand has now risen to 300 cubic meters per hour, with some of that gas being used by a neighboring lamp factory. Every day, up to three semi-tractor trailers had to drive nearly 600 kilometers from Bratislava to Bruntál and back to deliver the gas. That’s why we approached the two customers with the idea of producing the hydrogen by steam reforming right there on site.”

We save about 700 truck deliveries per year. On top of that, there’s the energy that would otherwise be used for high compression during the filling operation, which is also eliminated.

Vít Tuček, who is responsible for business development in the field of green hydrogen at Messer in the Czech Republic

Messer coordinates the installation

Messer coordinated the implementation of all installation work. Two compact steam reformers were delivered from the Netherlands and tied into the existing supply networks. They operate around the clock, even when the customers’ production operations are shut down on weekends. During that time, the gas is temporarily stored in the existing tanks. That extra volume supplements the gas flow on weekdays and smooths out demand spikes. The steam reformers do not produce green hydrogen, however, but rather H₂ from natural gas. “The reduction in the CO₂ footprint is nevertheless significant,” explains Vít Tuček. “We save about 700 truck deliveries per year. On top of that, there’s the energy that would otherwise be used for high compression during the filling operation, which is also eliminated.”

Zwei Dampfreformer im tschechischen Bruntál

Along with tungsten manufacturing, the hydrogen from the two steam reformers serves two other purposes. The neighboring lamp manufacturer uses an oxygen-hydrogen flame to shape special glass tubes. And it also uses the hydrogen in a mixture with nitrogen as a shielding gas to produce tungsten filaments for automotive headlights. Vít Tuček points out another aspect that extends far beyond Bruntál: “Gray hydrogen applications like these are building up expertise in handling this extremely volatile and flammable gas – expertise that we’ll also need for green hydrogen.”