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, but on a limited basis. There are a few hydrogen fueling stations in the Northeast region through such firms as Air Liquide, and there is an effort to establish a "Northeast hydrogen roadmap."

The DOE report notes some of 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 sum, the technology offers great potential to contribute to a low-carbon future, and natural gas has a role to play in that evolving energy equation in the coming years.

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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