Among the energy sources seen as potentially significant for helping establish a low-carbon energy future is hydrogen.

For natural gas systems, hydrogen has the potential to reduce carbon intensity through blending into existing gas pipeline systems.

Image: U.S. Dept. of Energy"

In November 2020, the U.S. Department of Energy released its "Hydrogen Program Plan." Its overview of hydrogen and its energy applicability includes the following:

    "Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe; however, it is rarely found in its elemental form on Earth. It must be produced from a hydrogen-containing feedstock (e.g., water, biomass, fossil fuels, or waste materials) using an energy source. Once hydrogen is produced, it can be used to store, move, and deliver low- or no-carbon energy to where it is needed. Hydrogen can be stored as a liquid, gas, or chemical compound, and is converted to energy via traditional combustion methods (in engines, furnaces, or gas turbines), through electrochemical processes (in fuel cells), and through hybrid approaches such as integrated combined cycle gasification and fuel cell systems. It is also used as a feedstock or fuel in a number of industries, including petroleum refining, ammonia production, food and pharmaceutical production, and metals manufacturing. Hydrogen can be produced in large centralized production facilities or in smaller distributed production facilities, and can be transported via truck, pipeline, tanker, or other means. Hydrogen, as a versatile energy carrier and chemical feedstock, offers advantages that unite all of our nation's energy resources-renewables, nuclear, and fossil fuels-and enables innovations in energy production and end uses that can help decarbonize three of the most energy intensive sectors of our economy: transportation, electricity generation, and manufacturing."

Graphic: U.S. DOE, "Hydrogen Program Plan," 11-20

The Canada Energy Regulator notes there are three methods to produce hydrogen:

I. "Grey hydrogen uses an industrial process called 'steam methane reforming', which uses high temperature steam to separate hydrogen from methane-the main component of natural gas.
II. Blue hydrogen uses the same method as grey hydrogen, except it captures and stores the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions resulting from the process.
III. Green hydrogen utilizes renewable electricity and a process called electrolysis (passing an electric current through water) to separate and extract hydrogen molecules from water."

Hydrogen is currently used in the transportation sector as a vehicle fuel, notably in California. There are a few hydrogen fueling stations in the Northeast region, but fueling infrastructure is generally limited to date.

The 2020 DOE report summarizes the challenges as well: "The key technical challenges for hydrogen and related technologies are cost, durability, reliability, and performance, as well as the lack of hydrogen infrastructure. To achieve widespread commercialization, hydrogen utilization technologies must enter larger markets and be able to compete with incumbent technologies in terms of life-cycle cost, performance, durability, and environmental impact. Non-technical barriers also need to be addressed, such as developing and harmonizing codes and standards, fostering best practices for safety, and developing a robust supply chain and workforce."

In a June 2021 "Market Snapshot" paper on hydrogen, the Canada Energy Regulator summarized the hydrogen opportunity this way:

    "Hydrogen has the potential to play a key role in the transition to a low-carbon economy and net-zero emissions. It may provide a way to leverage some existing energy and infrastructure, including fossil fuel resources and natural gas pipelines. Yet, work is still needed for hydrogen to be deployed at mass scale, including to increase cost-competitiveness with other fuels. Globally, efforts are focused on developing and harmonizing regulations, standards, and codes and addressing hydrogen storage and transportation challenges."

In June 2023, U.S. DOE released a report entitled: "DOE National Clean Hydrogen Strategy and Roadmap." The report "explores opportunities for clean hydrogen to contribute to national decarbonization goals across multiple sectors of the economy. It provides a snapshot of hydrogen production, transport, storage, and use in the United States today and presents a strategic framework for achieving large-scale production and use of clean hydrogen, examining scenarios for 2030, 2040, and 2050."

Regarding hydrogen derived from natural gas, DOE observes:

  • "In addition to its chemical properties, hydrogen can support decarbonization by displacing natural gas in sectors that require high-temperature heat, an application that is difficult to electrify. The use of pure hydrogen or blends of clean hydrogen and natural gas for 20-50 percent of industrial heating duty for high-temperature heat (>550°C) for chemicals and steelmaking would generate approximately 1-3MMT/year of demand." [2023 Roadmap, page 21]
  • "Additional longer-term concepts for renewable natural gas production include the catalysis of hydrogen and carbon dioxide to produce synthetic methane. Decarbonization via this approach will also require management and mitigation of fugitive methane emissions throughout the delivery infrastructure. Life cycle analyses of renewable natural gas relative to the use of hydrogen blends to decarbonize the heat and power sectors are currently underway within DOE's HyBlend initiative." [2023 Roadmap, page 31]
  • "Other work includes assessing opportunities to repurpose natural gas infrastructure for hydrogen, identifying conditions under which deployment of new infrastructure would be necessary to enable the use of high concentrations of blends and advancing the use of clean hydrogen in combined heat and power applications. Priorities for HyBlend include reducing the risk for all communities - especially vulnerable and disadvantaged communities - and spearheading policies, such as "dig once" strategies, as the Nation installs transmission, CCS, CO2 pipelines and other infrastructure. Additional work is also needed to establish or modify standards for both distribution and end use of blends. These standards will inform aspects of design, safety, and emissions." [2023 Roadmap, page 31]

Finally, GTI Energy has a well-established Hydrogen Technology Center; please see below for the link to its informative website.

For further information:

U.S. Department of Energy, "Hydrogen Program Plan," Nov. 2020

Link to: https://www.hydrogen.energy.gov/pdfs/hydrogen-program-plan-2020.pdf

Canada Energy Regulator, "How hydrogen has the potential to reduce the CO2 emissions of natural gas," Sept. 2020

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GTI: Hydrogen Technology Center
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U.S. Department of Energy, "National Clean Hydrogen Strategy and Roadmap," June 2023
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