Reducing the exergy destruction in the cryogenic heat exchangers of hydrogen liquefaction processes
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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A present key barrier for implementing large-scale hydrogen liquefaction plants is their high power consumption. The cryogenic heat exchangers are responsible for a significant part of the exergy destruction in these plants and we evaluate in this work strategies to increase their efficiency. A detailed model of a plate-fin heat exchanger is presented that incorporates the geometry of the heat exchanger, nonequilibrium ortho-para conversion and correlations to account for the pressure drop and heat transfer coefficients due to possible boiling/condensation of the refrigerant at the lowest temperatures. Based on available experimental data, a correlation for the ortho-para conversion kinetics is developed, which reproduces available experimental data with an average deviation of 2.2%. In a plate-fin heat exchanger that is used to cool the hydrogen from 47.8 K to 29.3 K with hydrogen as refrigerant, we find that the two main sources of exergy destruction are thermal gradients and ortho-para hydrogen conversion, being responsible for 69% and 29% of the exergy destruction respectively. A route to reduce the exergy destruction from the ortho-para hydrogen conversion is to use a more efficient catalyst, where we find that a doubling of the catalytic activity in comparison to ferric-oxide, as demonstrated by nickel oxide-silica catalyst, reduces the exergy destruction by 9%. A possible route to reduce the exergy destruction from thermal gradients is to employ an evaporating mixture of helium and neon at the cold-side of the heat exchanger, which reduces the exergy destruction by 7%. We find that a combination of hydrogen and helium-neon as refrigerants at high and low temperatures respectively, enables a reduction of the exergy destruction by 35%. A combination of both improved catalyst and the use of hydrogen and helium-neon as refrigerants gives the possibility to reduce the exergy destruction in the cryogenic heat exchangers by 43%. The limited efficiency of the ortho-para catalyst represents a barrier for further improvement of the efficiency.