Hydrogen Transport by Tube Trailer

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The transport of hydrogen as a compressed gas by road trailer (known as a tube trailer) is a well established distribution method. It is used widely in the industrial gas industry for the transport of relatively small volumes of hydrogen over short distances. A tube trailer will hold up to 400 kg of hydrogen at typical pressures of around 200 bar.

For larger volumes or for distribution over longer distances, this mode of distribution is less practical and the economics would favour the supply of liquid hydrogen. This can be demonstrated by looking at the supply of hydrogen to industrial applications by road in Europe and North America. In Europe - where the distribution distances are shorter (typically 200km or less) - road distribution by gaseous tube trailer is the main method used, whereas in North America, where hydrogen is typically distributed over far larger distances, liquid hydrogen delivery is favoured.

For energy applications, such as vehicle fuelling - the supply of hydrogen by gaseous tube trailer would be favoured for small volumes in areas close to a central production plant (within 200km) - such as for small fleet or passenger cars. Tube trailer supply would also be suitable for back-up supply to an onsite production plant. This mode of supply would be less suitable for supplying to large fleet of buses or for distribution over long distances as both the economic and well-to wheel calculations would suffer.

State of the Art

Tube Trailer

Delivery of gaseous hydrogen using road transport requires the use of a tube trailer. A tube trailer typically comprises several steel pressure vessels mounted on a protective framework (see Figure). The unit will contain up to 400kg hydrogen at around 200 bar pressure.

Metrics Table

Technology Accessibility Compatibility with existing technologies Rating 0-4 3[1]
Number of Transportation providers Data no. 4[2]
Joint transportation with other fuels ? Rating 0-4 ?
Global Environmental Impact
(to be coordinated with ECN)
GHG emissions associated with fuel transport Data gCO2 eq/kg fuel  
CO2 emissions associated with fuel transport Data gCO2/kg fuel  
Local Environmental Impact
(to be coordinated with ECN)
Air quality impact (consider NOx, PM, CO, NMHC) Rating 0-4  
Noise or perception of noise from transport systems (SPL, loudness,...) Data / Rating dB(A), sone  
Land use / damage to nature (e.g. pipelines) Rating 0-4  
Efficiency Transport leakage Data % (kg) loss / km  
Energy efficiency (e.g. truck energy consumption + leakage) Data %  
Capacity & Availability
(to be coordinated with ECN)
Measured capacity of distribution infrastructure Data kg fuel / year  
Lifetime of technology Data years  
(click here for more datails)
Capital investment for fuel transport facilitites Data €/capacity N/A
Operational / maintenance costs Data €/year N/A
Decommissioning Cost Data €/capacity N/A
Transportation Costs Data €/kg/km N/A
(to be coordinated with TNO)
No. of transport interruptions Data no. / year  
Severity of failure Rating 0-4  

Market / Diffusion

Delivery of gaseous hydrogen by tube trailer to the industrial market is one of the most mature methods of hydrogen distribution. The method of delivery is suitable for small deliveries of gaseous hydrogen which is stored onsite in compressed cylinders and used, typically at low pressure, for a variety of industrial applications. A serious limitation of this mode of distribution is the poor weight storage efficiency, with a 20 tonne vehicle carrying a maximum for 400kg of hydrogen - of which only 85% will typically be used (the remainder staying in the tube trailer at the end of each discharge). Another issue with using this mode of distribution for vehicle fuelling application is the high pressures demanded. Currently, a demonstration hydrogen vehicle with gaseous onboard hydrogen storage will have the hydrogen stored at 350 bar, which means the pressure of the hydrogen at the fuelling station must be stored at a higher pressure of ca 450 bar to ensure a complete fill. Many of the major vehicle manufacturers are developing vehicles with even higher onboard storage pressures of up to 700 bar, which will in turn require even higher storage pressures at the fuelling station. If the hydrogen fuel is delivered by tube trailer at 200 bar, significant investments will need to be made in onsite compression equipment.

Many of the industrial gas companies are looking at developing delivery fleet that carry hydrogen at higher pressures using composite re-enforced cylinders. Some of these delivery vehicles also have integrated dispensers which can be used to fuel vehicles directly with no additional fuelling infrastructure needed.[3]

Main Industrial Players

This section concentrates on the industrial gas companies that deliver the gaseous hydrogen, rather than the manufacturers that supply the cylinders.

On a global basis, there are four major companies involved in the production and supply of hydrogen to the industrial market. These are (with approximate market share in brackets):

  • Air Products and Chemical Inc. (35%)
  • L'Air Liquide (20%)
  • Linde Group (incorporating Linde Gas and BOC) (15%)
  • Praxair (20%)

These percentages will vary by region and in any given region, there will also be smaller companies providing local gas distribution.

For the near future, distribution by gaseous tube trailer will continue to be a main use of supply of hydrogen to the industrial market and will support the early growth of hydrogen infrastructure for fuelling applications. However, to be an effective longer term mode of distribution, high pressure storage in composite vessels onboard the tube trailer will need to be considered in order to be able to deliver larger quantities of product and to reduce the need for large compression systems at the fuelling site. The use of mobile gaseous fuelling systems will play a role in the early development of fuelling infrastructure for hydrogen, particularly for short term testing and demonstration. This mode of supply can already be seen in North America and at events such as the Challenge Bibendum.


  • Air Products
  • Castello, Tzimas, Moretto and Peteves
    Techno-economic Hydrogen Transmission and Distribution Systems in Europe in the Medium and Long Term
    Report EUR 21586EN, March 2005
  • Hydrogen 2003
    University of Glamorgan
  • US Department of Energy [3]], [4]
  • High Growth Industrial Gases
    Spiritus Consulting


  1. Tube trailers are suitable for delivery to fuelling stations as described in section 1.1. However the supply pressure of 200 bar is far less than that typically required for onboard vehicle storage (of up to 700 bar) and additional compression equipment will therefore be required at the fuelling station site.
  2. 'Four' refers to the major global industrial gas companies; Air Liquide, Linde Group (inc. BOC), Air Products and Praxair. There are other smaller regional gas companies that can also deliver tube trailer hydrogen.
  3. See [1] for details of Air Products' mobile hydrogen fueller and [2] for information from Linde (although note this is based on liquid delivery)
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