THP-E188: How Effective Is Hydrogen Blending In Utility Distribution?

February 09, 2023 • Paul Rodden • Season: 2023 • Episode: 188

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Welcome to The Hydrogen Podcast!

In episode 188, Centerpoint announces that they’ve already started blending hydrogen in Minneapolis. I’ll discuss just what that means on today’s hydrogen podcast.

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Centerpoint announces that they’ve already started blending hydrogen in Minneapolis. I’ll discuss just what that means on today’s hydrogen podcast.

So the big questions in the energy industry today are, how is hydrogen the primary driving force behind the evolution of energy? Where’s capital being deployed for hydrogen projects globally? Where are the best investment opportunities for early adopters who recognize the importance of hydrogen? I will address the critical issues and give you the information you need to deploy a cap. Those are the questions that will unlock the potential of hydrogen, and this podcast will give you the answers. My name is Paul Rodden, and welcome to the hydrogen podcast.

In an article on January 27, in energy Frank Jossi writes gas utilities Minnesota hydrogen pilot good news so far, but questions remain. A Minnesota gas utility says it is successfully blending green hydrogen into its natural gas pipeline system and one of the first such tests in the country. Since last summer, CenterPoint Energy customers near downtown Minneapolis had been burning a bit of hydrogen alongside the usual mix of methane gas in their stoves and furnaces. The utility completed a $2.5 million hydrogen production pilot facility last year, and began injecting the carbon free fuel into its system in small amounts in June. Hydrogen accounts for no more than 5% of the overall blend at any time. And a quote from Centerpoint spokesperson Ross Corson. The good news is that this facility is integrated well within our distribution system, the pilot project is a chance for the utility to iron out operational challenges.

It’s already made several adjustments, including changes to a water circulation system, and the way in which it removes moisture before injecting the gas into its pipelines. But even a technical success for the project is unlikely to resolve broader questions in Minnesota and beyond about the role of hydrogen and a clean energy economy. Some experts and climate advocates have argued that blending hydrogen into the natural gas system is an inefficient and expensive climate solution compared to switching to electric appliances, and that hydrogen should be reserved for industrial uses and other difficult to decarbonize sectors. Most hydrogen today is produced from a chemical process involving hydrocarbons that releases significant carbon emissions. Green hydrogen, however, is produced using electricity to split water molecules and hydrogen and oxygen. If done with renewable electricity, it can be a zero emission fuel source.

In a quote from Joe DeMille, buildings program manager for the St. Paul clean energy advocacy group Fresh Energy, which produces the energy news network, the color wheel of hydrogen is complex and a little bit overwhelming. But green hydrogen as long as it’s generated using renewable electricity is the gold standard. Now Centerpoint small plant sits on the site of a former coal gasification plant that began operating when Centerpoint was called the Minneapolis Gas Light Company. The company chose the site due to its central location in its pipeline system and the availability of space. The grounds now hosts the green hydrogen center and a parking lot for workers taking courses across the street at a center point training center. John Heer the utilities director of gas storage and supply planning oversees the facility. Making Green hydrogen is not a huge technical feat and involves electrolysis Heer said city water is purified before being piped into a one megawatt electrolyzer. That process is two gallons a minute the facility disperses oxygen through the fans outside the plant. Again, according to Heer, we’re learning by doing we need to know how it works before we can scale it in a larger facility.

The facility gets its electricity from Xcel energy’s grid and offsets its electricity use with wind energy renewable credits, also purchased from Xcel critics and disputed weather hydrogen facilities that use renewable energy indirectly through offsets should qualify as green part of the pilot is determining how hydrogen changes the characteristics of natural gas and pipelines. Hydrogen is less dense than methane and only carries about 1/3 as much energy per cubic foot. The molecules are the smallest in the universe and can exacerbate pipeline cracks and cause embrittlement increasing leakage and explosion risks above certain concentrations. This is according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. In July, a California Public Utilities Commission study found that 5% blends of hydrogen and natural gas are safe, but going above that amount could require modifications to stoves, and water heaters. Moreover, it says green hydrogen carries less energy content, more of it would be required to replace natural gas this again according to the report, even if produced from fully renewable sources, hydrogen is unlikely to replace natural gas For various reasons, according to Dammel the manufacturing process absorbs more energy than it produces, with roughly 30 to 35% loss.

Larger green hydrogen plants will need to compete for clean electricity at the same time, when demand for wind and solar power has skyrocketed. Again, according to Dammel, we think that just adding hydrogen to the distribution system to substitute for hydrocarbon gas has economic and technical limitations. It’s not going to be 100% substitute for every molecule of hydrocarbon gas that’s right now in the system, to replace all the nation’s natural gas consumption with green hydrogen would be an enormous undertaking, demanding hundreds of billions of dollars in investment in renewable energy electrolysis technology, pipeline infrastructure and storage. Critics also say green hydrogen production requires much water a potential problem in more arid regions than Minnesota. Yet one study and market data suggests that its manufacture consumes far less water than plants using coal, nuclear, natural gas, biomass, or solar. For now clean energy advocates believe the best application for green hydrogen will be heavy duty industrial applications were using electricity cannot cost effectively replace natural gas again according to Dammel.

The biggest hydrogen markets currently are petroleum refiners fertilizer companies, food processors, and metals treatment firms. Hydrogens advocates, however, believe that in addition to manufacturing, it can revolutionize the transportation sector, hydrogen is expected to get a boost in 2023 from the federal government. The infrastructure investment and jobs act signed in 2021, includes $9.5 billion dollars and incentives for clean hydrogen. The Department of Energy’s hydrogen shot program has set a goal of reducing the cost of one kilogram of hydrogen to $1. In one decade. In September, the Energy Department released 112 Page clean hydrogen roadmap that calls for funding regional hydrogen hubs, support for manufacturing plants and research in reducing the cost of electrolysis. The inflation Reduction Act includes a tax credit for green hydrogen that will soon provide up to $3 a kilogram credit for producers, the US Treasury Department is expected to decide soon, what criteria needs to be met with some environmental groups lobbying for onsite renewable generation to be a requirement. Again, according to Heer the utility spokesperson, it costs more to produce hydrogen than use natural gas today. So a $3 kilogram is kind of a big deal.

Now Centerpoint also wants to build a larger second hydrogen plant. But the timing on that has yet to be determined. The pilot is expected to avoid 1200 tons of carbon emissions annually. Okay, so we finally have a distribution utility company in the United States, blending hydrogen. And the truth is, I’m not surprised. I know that Centerpoint has been looking into blending hydrogen into their distribution systems. And I know they’re looking to expand that. But the question still remains and it was brought up in this article, is that really the best utilization for hydrogen right now? I suppose if Centerpoint wants to make the hydrogen and they are a utility distribution company, this makes sense for them. But as a general rule, is that the best use for hydrogen? Well, to answer that question, I would say this, there are a lot of existing hydrogen companies. And they’re even more on the way up looking to make even more hydrogen for distribution to hard to abate sectors like transportation and heavy industry. So that may not be as big of an issue, as people think, also, the continued push to electrify household appliances is still a bit of a touchy subject to those of us in Texas, who are still without power, both from the freeze in February of 2021. And the latest freeze we just had a week and a half ago.

And so I can say from personal experience that having natural gas utilities saved our lives, as well as easing our minds knowing that we weren’t pulling even more necessary electricity from the already overdrawn grid. And so with all of that being said, I can see that several years down the line, when it will be important to pipe hydrogen into our natural gas distribution network. And now is the good time to start testing out materials. And also to see how the pipeline system does with 5%. blends.

All right. That’s it for me, everyone. If you have a second, I would really appreciate it. If you could leave a good review on whatever platform it is that you listen to Apple podcasts, Spotify, Google, YouTube, whatever it is, that will be a tremendous This helped to the show. And as always, if you ever have any feedback, you’re welcome to email me directly at And as always, take care. Stay safe. I’ll talk to you later.

Hey, this is Paul. I hope you liked this podcast. If you did want to hear more, I’d appreciate it if you would either subscribe to this channel on YouTube, or connect with your favorite platform through my website at Thanks for listening. I very much appreciate it. Have a great day.