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New Report Analyzes Options for Blending Hydrogen into Natural Gas Pipelines

March 20, 2013

A new report by NREL hydrogen systems analysts explores the issues and opportunities related to blending hydrogen into natural gas pipeline networks. The report, titled Blending Hydrogen into Natural Gas Pipeline Networks: A Review of Key Issues, focuses on using hydrogen both as a fuel and as a means of energy storage.

“Hydrogen delivery continues to be a barrier to full market utilization,” said Marc Melaina. “Leveraging existing pipelines and the current supply of low-cost, clean natural gas can potentially provide a bridge to hydrogen infrastructure and widespread use.”

As a hydrogen delivery method, blending hydrogen into existing natural gas pipelines can defray the cost of building dedicated hydrogen pipelines or other costly delivery infrastructure during the early market development phase. A blending strategy allows suppliers to deliver hydrogen fuel to markets for use in stationary fuel cell systems for buildings, backup power, or distributed generation and in transportation applications such as fuel cell electric vehicles and material handling and ground support equipment.

“Blending hydrogen into the existing natural gas pipeline network has also been proposed as a means of increasing the output of renewable energy systems such as large wind farms,” Melaina added.

Using electrolyzers at wind farms enables excess wind energy to be converted to hydrogen, lessening the need for curtailment. If implemented with relatively low concentrations—less than 5%–15% hydrogen by volume—this strategy provides a hydrogen storage and delivery pathway across a broad range of geographic locations. Given the large geographic scope and scale of the existing natural gas infrastructure, even very low blend levels (less than 3%–5%) could absorb very large quantities of otherwise curtailed or uneconomical wind or solar power. Blending renewable hydrogen with natural gas can reduce the carbon intensity and sustainability of the final natural gas product delivered to consumers.