Can carbon-free hydrogen augment, or even replace, the fossil natural gas running through pipelines to fuel furnaces, boilers, stoves and other building applications today? Or will the effort get bogged down in challenges related to pipeline safety and upgrade costs, loss of energy density, the long-term cost discrepancies compared to electrifying natural-gas-fired heat and appliances in buildings, or the pressure to direct green hydrogen to hard-to-decarbonize sectors? Natural-gas utilities around the world are seeking real-world answers to these kinds of questions. To learn more, read “Green Hydrogen in Natural Gas Pipelines: Decarbonization Solution or Pipe Dream?”
- In the U.S., the HyBlend project involving NREL and five other DOE labs intends to examine the long-term effects of hydrogen at different blends on different pipeline materials and create publicly available models for industry use. This kind of research will help determine how much it will cost to upgrade existing pipeline networks to make the shift.
- “Hydrogen also burns very differently than methane”, said Jussi Heikkinen, the Americas Director of Growth and Development for Wärtsilä Energy and Path to 100% community expert, which is investing in engines that can run on 100 percent hydrogen. “It burns almost as an explosion. It’s a blast, and then it’s done. That’s good for efficient conversion of gas into heat, but it also brings safety and engineering challenges,” he said.
- Making green hydrogen using carbon-free electricity also costs four to six times more than making hydrogen from fossil fuels. Those costs are expected to fall with advances in electrolysis efficiency, lower costs of renewable energy to power them, and economies of scale from the industrial hubs being built around the world.
Path to 100% Perspective:
When utilities go beyond 25 percent hydrogen in the fuel, in most places in the world, they are no longer able to use the same equipment. Electronics, for example, must be explosion-proof. There should be no sparks because hydrogen ignites with almost any air-to-fuel ratio.
Hydrogen is also about three times less energy-dense than methane. That means that as the ratio of hydrogen rises, the volume of energy being delivered through the same pipelines decreases.
Photo by American Public Power Association on Unsplash