As we reflect on the grand opening event for the Midwest hydrogen hub in Wentzville, Missouri, we can't help but look back at the invaluable contributions made by individuals throughout the BayoTech team. In this new series we're profiling the teams at BayoTech that make the magic happen. Subscribe to be sure you don't miss out!
This month we sat down to speak with Francisco, Justin, Rand, Matt and Keith about their roles in operations and engineering and how they helped bring this project to fruition.
Their unique skills and extensive experiences have played a pivotal role in the successful development and launch of the BayoGaaS™ Hydrogen Hub. In the coming discussions, we will delve into some of their challenges and experiences.
Francisco has been a mechanical technician at BayoTech for five years. He's been instrumental in building prototypes and conducting research for the development of hydrogen hubs. Initially engaged in hands-on construction and assembly of the hubs, Francisco's responsibilities evolved with the company's expansion, now encompassing commissioning, tuning, and ensuring the proper ongoing operation of the units.
With a background as a nuclear operator in the Navy, he's brought a wealth of operational knowledge to his role at BayoTech. Since joining the team last year, Rand has made waves as a control room operator, showcasing his remarkable flexibility and problem-solving abilities.
Meet Keith; he has extensive experience in the Navy's nuclear engineering and planning divisions. Keith now stands as the Director of Operations and Training at BayoTech. Overseeing critical aspects like control room operations, hub operations, filling operations, and hydrogen deliveries, Keith has been a driving force behind the scenes, ensuring that all elements of this hydrogen hub function seamlessly.
A mechanical engineer at BayoTech, Justin represents the perfect blend of theoretical understanding and practical application. From the conceptualization and project management phases to diving deep into fabrication drawings and equipment specifications, Justin's journey has comprehensively explored the hub's creation.
Matt is BayoTech's Senior Process Control System Engineer and was the Midwest hub's lead commissioning engineer. His role encompasses all aspects of instrumentation, controls, and electrical engineering. His background as a Navy Nuclear Field Electrical Operator brings valuable experience in theory, operations, and equipment maintenance and an understanding of the importance of integrated plant operations for BayoTech.
Starting the Journey
The journey from concept to operational reality has been a thrilling and dynamic experience involving meticulous planning, learning, and adapting. Being part of the team from the early days, Francisco vividly remembers the resource constraints that led to innovative solutions and adaptability. "In the initial stages, we faced the challenges typical of a startup—with limited funds and a small workforce, we had to prove the viability of our technology." He said, "We started with a single Bayonet tube SMR (Steam Methane Reformer) system and had to demonstrate the production of a specific amount of hydrogen to secure funding for further research."
After getting more funding, the pilot plant in Albuquerque was vital in mapping out our vision to build the Midwest Hub. Building out a commercially viable system required the conjoined efforts of management, operations, and engineering. "It was incredibly satisfying to see all the successful "theory to practice" evolutions take place to prove the feasibility of the technology," said Matt.
The experience of transitioning from the pilot to full-scale hub operations brought numerous learning opportunities. Justin shared the excitement of witnessing CAD models come to life as a functioning plant and then learning and adjusting to get it right in practice. "The biggest challenge is when deviations or errors occur, and we have to investigate why something isn't working as it should." He noted,"Sometimes it's as easy as forgetting to open a valve, and other times it's something more complicated or that something may not have been appropriately sized."
Keith also shared that, while on-site in Missouri, they had everything mapped out on paper. However, "as we got into the nitty-gritty of loading and taking measurements during planned outages, we realized it's a different ball game at this larger scale compared to the pilot plant. Sure, we had some fantastic learning opportunities. Still, it was also a lightbulb moment — if we tweak this equipment a bit, it could seriously streamline our catalyst loading process for future sites, especially when we're dealing with thousands of pounds of material in these vessels." Since the operation has been live, he stated that "we're still encountering some typical initial startup challenges, but we're overcoming them. We have an excellent team there to work through it."
Rand emphasized the team's concerted effort to establish robust processes and procedures early on. The focus has been on nailing down procedures for on-site activities like loading catalysts into our high and low-temperature water gas shift reactors and firing up those vessels. He emphasized that "having formal processes with safety measures is crucial. It ensures we're doing things correctly and, most importantly, safely."
Challenges and Learning Opportunities
When discussing the team's challenges, Justin shared that "a big thing learned from Albuquerque, and that we've now implemented at the Midwest hub, is ensuring we have the right temperatures across the system not to damage any equipment." Ensuring the comprehensive preheating of the entire system facilitates a seamless flow of our processes while mitigating the risk of damage and enhancing efficiency.
Another critical challenge for the team was the difference in weather from Albuquerque. "Some days it's scorching hot and crazy humid, and everyone is suited up in Tyvek and respirators, loading catalysts.' Keith said, "Other times, it was trudging through the mud during early construction and climbing to tackle different tasks. We weren't used to these conditions and had to adapt quickly while keeping safety in mind. Everyone watched out for one another and ensured we didn't make any risky or unsafe decisions."
With the tight timeline to get Hub One online, it was more than just the BayoTech team working on-site. There were multiple contractors, all working on-site simultaneously. Keith explained, "We had electricians and insulators all working in the same spot simultaneously - so communication is key. We've got this system where we're communicating and juggling tasks to keep progressing on getting the hub up and running, all without stepping on each other's toes."
Even our control systems weren't immune to the transition challenges. Matt explained that implementing third-party systems not initially used at the pilot plant threw curveballs they didn't anticipate. "The complexity level of operating these systems together is more significant than originally thought. We had several takeaways from the project that can be implemented to streamline some of the construction phases and get the control system up and tested sooner in the timeline at future sites," he said.
These challenges weren't so much roadblocks for the team, but rather stepping stones, providing valuable insights, both for operating our hub in Wentzville as well as for the subsequent design for the second hub.
Remote Monitoring of the Hydrogen Hub
A key differentiator for BayoTech is the ability to monitor the Hydrogen Hub 24/7 remotely from a control room in Albuquerque. This capability is enabled by an Emerson Cloud data & controls infrastructure, for which Matt Smith was the lead architect.
Keith shares that the control room team will relocate to Albuquerque for continuous 24/7 monitoring as operations progress toward a steady state. On-site, a dedicated operations technician will supervise day-to-day plant operations and maintenance. A field technician will also handle essential tasks like hydrogen delivery to customers. This coordinated approach ensures operational smoothness and an effective maintenance plan.
Rand and the team worked to build an operations manual, including the operating procedures and system alignment checklists, providing crucial guidelines for system alignment and seamless operation. Keith emphasized that "Rand took a leadership role in crafting the operations manual. This manual has laid the foundation for essential operational guidelines and procedures for the entire team."
During the transitional phase back to Albuquerque, effective communication is very important. Rand discusses the detailed procedures implemented to ensure timely and informative updates on the plant's status. "We've documented procedures to ensure operational safety and enable a swift, effective response in an emergency. The emergency shutdown procedure is particularly designed for expedited execution, allowing the system to be safely shut down within a remarkably short duration." These safety measures include the integration of safety valves to avoid potential hazards. Furthermore, temperature and pressure sensors monitor and regulate the system's temperature and pressure.
Training for Excellence
Everyone on the same page when operating the plant is vital to ensuring future sites come online smoothly. Keith took the initiative to develop a training program in preparation for the venture in Wentzville. The goal was to create an immersive experience that would truly prepare operators. The program incorporates on-the-job training, performance demonstrations, and written exams, embracing a transformative approach as they prepare for future sites.
Collaborations with industry associations like the Compressed Gas Association are also vital to our training strategy, staying informed about the latest advancements and industry insights, especially in hydrogen technology.
Everyone, from executives to ground-level team members, has exhibited unwavering commitment and excitement to get this Hub up and running.
"I'm genuinely excited about what we're doing because it's something not many others are venturing into." Francisco shares, "We're constructing hydrogen hubs strategically located across the country. The idea is to make hydrogen easily accessible for people ready to plunge into sustainable energy. It's a unique venture shaping up to be quite thrilling."
Control room operators, operation technicians, and engineers have all showcased remarkable dedication and resilience.
"We're now even more excited and ready for what comes next." Keith says, "Learning from the operational plant at Hub One will improve us even more. New control room operators and technicians will have the invaluable opportunity to immerse themselves in a live operational environment. This hands-on experience will enable them to familiarize themselves with startup and shutdown sequences, better equipping them for their roles in building our second Hub in Stockton."