Executive Viewpoint: GTI’s Hydrogen Technology Center makes big strides in H2 projects, advocacy

K. Wiley, Hydrogen Technology Center, GTI

To address the many challenges and opportunities in the world’s energy future, the U.S.-headquartered, global-focused GTI recently launched a Hydrogen Technology Center with world-class research and development capabilities. Gas Processing & LNG spoke with Kristine Wiley, Executive Director, about the Center’s ongoing and upcoming initiatives and projects, as well as projected technology adoption and use amid the worldwide expansion of H2 infrastructure.

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GP&LNG: Last year, GTI and the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) announced the formation of the $100-MM Low-Carbon Resources Initiative (LCRI), which aims to bring low-carbon power generation technologies to commercial scale by 2030. Can you share an update on the Initiative and the projects and strategies coming out of it?

KW: The LCRI is bringing together industry stakeholders to accelerate development and demonstration of low-carbon energy technologies through transformative, clean energy research and development. We launched LCRI in the autumn of 2020 with 18 anchor sponsors, and as of February 2021 have grown the membership to 35 sponsors and exceeded our goal of $100 MM in funding. It is a true demonstration of the energy industry’s commitment to striving toward deep decarbonization across all sectors of the economy.

The LCRI intends to launch a set of initial projects that demonstrate key decarbonization pathways, providing resiliency, reliability and affordability while also reducing emissions. It is very important that we begin putting real technologies into operation as soon as possible.

Another key focus is our integrated energy systems analysis, which will help us evaluate scenarios for emissions reductions, identify low-cost technology pathways and quantify the impact of economy-wide decarbonization policies. This will be a key input to the LCRI roadmap, which will identify research and development (R&D) gaps, technology commercialization opportunities and investment needs, all of which will guide long-term R&D activities. The roadmap is expected to be released in Q2 2021.

GP&LNG: From your background in the midstream sector, can you talk a bit about the different ways that H2 and renewable natural gas (RNG) can be blended or utilized in existing midstream operations, and how that will help reduce carbon footprint for midstream and LNG operators?

KW: Renewable natural gas and H2 will both play important roles in transitioning to a low-carbon energy system. RNG is already being introduced into the existing natural gas system and is a key component to decarbonization strategies for gas companies. RNG facilities are taking waste from landfills or dairy farms, for example, and converting it into pipeline-quality gas for injection into the natural gas grid. In some cases, the RNG can be a carbon-negative fuel, depending on the initial feedstock used.

There are more than 100 operational RNG production facilities in the U.S., and that number is expected to grow as decarbonization commitments increase at the state, regional and even corporate levels. The benefit of RNG—assuming it has been processed to meet gas quality specifications—is that it is quite similar to the composition of natural gas, so the same infrastructure can be used to transport and deliver it, and it can then be used in the same end-use applications.

H2 is carbon-free and can be produced with low to zero emissions, offering a clean energy source. Similar to RNG, we expect H2 to contribute to our low-carbon energy future and emerge as a significant energy carrier by 2040 across a variety of sectors and end-use applications, including industrial processes, transportation, buildings and power generation. The versatility of H2, from ways to produce and use it across the full energy value chain, creates unprecedented opportunity for H2 to become a greater part of our global energy system.

GP&LNG: In what regions or scenarios do you see the opportunity for repurposing existing natural gas storage and infrastructure to deliver H2?

KW: One of the key drivers that has created an interest in H2 is its potential role in large-scale energy storage. Renewable energy from wind and solar is not always available at the same time as peak demand for electricity. This has created a need for large-scale and seasonal energy storage that cannot be completely met by batteries or conventional methods like pumped hydropower. H2 is the leading candidate to provide the storage that is needed to ensure continued growth of renewable power generation. Put simply, off-peak renewable power can be converted to H2 via electrolysis and then injected into pipeline networks or underground storage for later use.

Blending H2 into the natural gas system also offers a path toward decarbonization and reduction in emissions. Using a 20% blend of zero-carbon H2 could reduce CO2 emissions by approximately 7%. Several gas utilities, such as Dominion Energy, SoCal Gas and CenterPoint, have recently announced H2 projects, many of which focus on H2 blending into natural gas pipelines.

Creating H2 hubs or networks where there is an aggregation of H2-capable infrastructure and end users is another model being explored in the U.S. We are excited to be part of what will be the first large-scale demonstration of an H2 network in our nation. With funding from the U.S. Department of Energy and an impressive list of industry partners, GTI, Frontier Energy and the University of Texas–Austin will be demonstrating an H2 network at the university. Renewable H2 will be produced and stored for use in an onsite H2 fueling station and in a fuel cell to power a data center on the campus (FIG. 1).

Viewpoint Fig 01
FIG. 1. GTI’s Hydrogen Network Demonstration projects in Texas. Figure: Frontier Energy Inc.

This demonstration provides a stepping stone for building H2 networks in other parts of the country, and hopefully for creating cities and communities fueled by H2. The existing natural gas infrastructure will play an important role in making this happen.

At GTI, we think that H2 will continue to be produced primarily from natural gas for quite some time—combined with carbon capture and storage to minimize its environmental footprint—while H2 production from renewable sources will continue to grow. The natural gas infrastructure should have a continuing role for both near-term opportunities for H2 and for the longer-term “green” H2 economy. However, our pipeline infrastructure was built to transport natural gas, and as we explore injecting H2 into that infrastructure, we must understand the impacts to the safety, reliability and integrity to the system. We are actively conducting collaborative research with industry, government agencies and academia to address this.

GP&LNG: In which sectors do you see H2 taking off most quickly? Conversely, what obstacles must H2 overcome to become a significant contributor to the world’s energy supply?

KW: What we are seeing across the world is the acknowledgement that we need multiple solutions to achieve net-zero emissions. Significant progress is being made with renewables, energy efficiency, and electrification, but the only way to get there for certain sectors requiring high heat or energy density is with an energy-dense carrier, such as H2. Long-haul heavy transportation, such as heavy-duty trucks, shipping, aviation and locomotives; industrial production, such as cement and steelmaking; or buildings in northern climates—all of these applications are well suited for H2.

The transportation and delivery of H2 is the highest-cost “link” in the H2 value chain. Building new infrastructure is expensive, so using our existing gas infrastructure to store and deliver H2 to where we need it, when we need it, is a great opportunity to help reduce those costs and provide continued reliability of energy supply to end users.

As we move down the value chain and evaluate the potential of using H2 in various sectors of our economy, technical challenges must be addressed depending on the end-use application. For example, with residential applications, GTI and others are conducting research to understand the impact of H2 on existing appliances to ensure that they operate properly and safely when a new source of fuel is being used. Similar research is occurring for the commercial, industrial and power generation sectors.

GP&LNG: What do you see as the most promising areas for the utilization of RNG as a fuel/feedstock?

KW: One of the most attractive features of RNG is the ability to use it in nearly any application or sector that uses natural gas due to its similar gas composition and fuel properties. Where we have seen the biggest demand for RNG, however, is as a transportation fuel, due to incentives from California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standards (LCFS) program. In 2019, about 40% of natural gas vehicle fuel was sourced from RNG.

While H2 may be a competitive decarbonization solution for the industrial sector or energy-intensive, high-heat applications, RNG is also attractive for the buildings sector, especially in the residential and commercial space where modification or retrofitting of appliances would not be needed.

GP&LNG: With respect to the cost of H2 projects, do you expect to see more “blue” H2 projects (H2 produced from natural gas reforming, with added carbon capture and storage) implemented over the near-term, vs. “green” H2 projects (H2 produced from electrolyzers using renewable energy power, with zero carbon emissions), due to the higher cost factor for green H2 projects at present?

KW: To enable a low-cost, low-carbon economy, we must expand our supply of H2. As you noted, there are several technologies to produce H2, with steam methane reforming (SMR) dominating H2 production today. When SMR is combined with carbon capture, it enables production of clean H2. Technologies that we implement to reduce emissions must be cost-effective for our economy and for a diverse set of customers, whether focused on large-scale power generation or serving disadvantaged communities.

Disruptive innovation will be needed to produce a low-cost supply of H2, regardless of the color or feedstock. As many studies point out, the cost of blue H2 is significantly lower than that of green H2, so in the near to medium term, H2 from natural gas will continue to provide the majority of H2 supply, and this trend will continue until electrolyzer costs and electricity prices come down. It is also important to note that the impact of policies around tax incentives, production credits and the cost of carbon will further accelerate the supply of clean H2. We are also exploring the creation of H2-focused hubs or centers where existing assets and infrastructure can be leveraged and matched with multiple local end-users as a way to reduce costs.

As part of our Hydrogen Network Demonstration in Texas, the project team is also developing a framework for integrating H2 as a low-carbon fuel within the Port of Houston, which includes plans for production, delivery, transport and use of H2 to decarbonize the port’s industries and operations (Fig. 1). The intent is to apply similar frameworks to other areas in the U.S. to expand the role of H2 in our energy systems.

The global effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is driving a need to deploy and develop low-carbon technologies quickly, and the increased use of renewable resources is driving demand for more means to store energy. H2 offers great versatility that can go a long way toward meeting decarbonization goals across all sectors of the economy. GP


Author Pic Wiley

As the Executive Director of GTI’s Hydrogen Technology Center, KRISTINE WILEY works across the organization to synchronize deep industry knowledge and technical expertise, as well as large-scale labs and test facilities to integrate the use of H2 into the energy system. Addressing economy-wide decarbonization, the Hydrogen Technology Center brings together public-private partnerships to facilitate R&D to enable clean H2 generation, transport, storage and utilization at scale while leveraging the existing robust energy infrastructure to facilitate the transition to a low-carbon future.

Ms. Wiley’s career spans nearly two decades at GTI. Prior to her current role, she served as an R&D Director responsible for GTI’s Environmental, Risk and Integrity Management programs. With a focus on reducing environmental impacts, she led collaborative research directly working with industry to develop solutions for the detection and mitigation of methane emissions from natural gas operations. At GTI, she has held positions of increasing responsibility in managing research addressing utility operations and environmental compliance to advance the use of low-carbon fuels, such as renewable natural gas.

Ms. Wiley holds a BA degree in biological sciences from the University of Chicago, as well as an MBA degree from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.


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