NFCRC In the News

November 23, 2020, Patch
By Ashley Ludwig

UC Irvine Research Program Takes Step Toward Affordable Energy

The Hydrogen Blending Demonstration Program will educate residents that renewable hydrogen is a valuable tool for a carbon-neutral future.

The Hydrogen Blending Demonstration Program will educate residents that renewable hydrogen is a valuable tool for a carbon-neutral future. (Maggie Fusek/Patch)

IRVINE, CA — A project that began at UC Irvine is taking its first steps in finding real-world ways to reduce carbon emissions and deliver affordable and reliable energy to 22 million California customers.

Working in a partnership with SoCalGas and the National Fuel Cell Research Center, UC Irvine helped develop the technology known as Hydrogen Blending. According to reports, it will be the first in California and among the first in the nation to seek ways of reducing carbon emissions. The group first launched the first power-to-gas demonstration project in the United States in 2015. From that, Southern California Gas Co. and San Diego Gas and Electric announced Monday a Hydrogen Blending Demonstration Program.

"Blending hydrogen with natural gas is part of a multi-pronged strategy both utilities — subsidiaries of Sempra Energy — are undertaking to decarbonize their natural gas grid," according to a joint statement. "The vision is to leverage surplus renewable electricity generated in the middle of the day to produce green hydrogen, which then can be injected into the natural gas grid for storage and use."

UC Irvine researchers have worked to lay the groundwork for leveraging natural gas infrastructure already in place to store and transmit renewable energy, according to Jeff Reed, then-director of business strategy and advanced technology at the Southern California Gas Co. Since 2016, a team of UCI graduate students have monitored the system and conducted research on the effect of hydrogen transport on natural gas pipelines. They're also looked into methanation, which takes carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and combines it with renewable hydrogen to create a new, sustainable fuel source. The original power-to-gas project showed that technologies in development today that "offer ways to drastically increase the use of environmentally sensitive wind and solar resources in both power generation and delivery," said Scott Samuelsen, APEP director and professor of mechanical & aerospace engineering. "It's particularly rewarding to see this exciting technology being implemented and evaluated right here."

Sempra Energy president Kevin Sagara, who is also chairman of SoCalGas and SDG&E, spoke on the program as a "key milestone" in our efforts to decarbonize our energy system while delivering affordable and reliable energy to 22 million California customers."

The two subsidiaries are planning multiple hydrogen blending projects in their respective service territories. The first proposed project will combine hydrogen into an isolated section of a primarily polyethylene plastic distribution system in SoCalGas' service territory.

SoCalGas, headquartered in Los Angeles, expects to choose the initial project's location in early 2021.

Subsequent projects are scheduled in SDG&E's service territory. They will build upon the knowledge learned in the first demonstration, including blending hydrogen into an isolated section of a mixed plastic and steel natural gas distribution system and an isolated steel pipeline demonstration.

In addition to the hydrogen blending projects, SDG&E announced in October that it intends to pilot two hydrogen projects by 2022 as part of its sustainability strategy to advance carbon neutrality. Those projects would use a combination of technologies such as renewable resources, electrolysis, and fuel cells to demonstrate increased system resiliency, long-duration storage, power-to-gas hydrogen fuel blending, and vehicle hydrogen fueling, among other applications.

The Hydrogen Blending Demonstration Program is part of a joint application by SoCalGas, SDG&E, Pacific Gas and Electric and Southwest Gas filed with the California Public Utilities Commission.

Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, says that "green hydrogen is a game-changer, not only for our power and energy needs but also for our industrial and transportation sectors."

According to Skinner, green hydrogen can support existing, good-paying jobs "as our state and communities take steps to transition to a zero-carbon economy."

If adopted by the CPUC, the demonstration program would understand how to safely incorporate hydrogen, a zero-emission fuel, into the gas grid, a first step toward establishing a statewide hydrogen injection standard, according to the utility companies.

The director of California Hydrogen Business Council, Bill Zobel, discussed the development. "It's exciting what this means for the emerging renewable hydrogen market," Zobel said. "The Hydrogen Blending Demonstration Program will help the public understand that renewable hydrogen is important and a valuable tool for our carbon-neutral future."