Natural Gas Industry Looks to Hydrogen As New Technology

Hydrogen production coupled with carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology was at the forefront of discussion at the recent Shale Insight conference as gas industry representatives look at developing a clean energy source that will allow natural gas to remain in the mix as the U.S. works to reduce its carbon emissions.

The increasing use of natural gas as an electric generation source has allowed the U.S. to reduce its emissions as coal power plants are retired, but the fuel source still produces some CO2 emissions. Hydrogen is being studied as a clean energy source that produces only water vapor when burned, and it can be produced by various methods. The Shale Insight conference, hosted by the Marcellus Shale Coalition, is one of the largest gatherings of Appalachian natural gas representatives. So-called “gray hydrogen” is produced from natural gas using steam methane reforming, but CO2 is still emitted during the process. “Blue hydrogen” uses the same process but adds CCS to capture the emissions. CCS technology captures the CO2 emissions, which are then sequestered into salt caverns and old wells deep beneath the earth’s surface. Hydrogen produced from natural gas is the lowest-cost option, but CCS technology needs to quickly ramp up. “Green hydrogen” is produced from water through electrolysis using renewable energy sources, but it requires a lot of electricity and water. Methane pyrolysis is an emerging technology that produced solid carbon as a byproduct, but research is in the nascent stages. A panel discussion on “Hydrogen Opportunities for the Natural Gas Industry” explored the topic and the potential uses for the fuel. Denise Brinley, vice president of strategic growth at TRC Companies Inc., explained that hydrogen production from natural gas cannot be decoupled from CCS. “If we are to accelerate any operations for hydrogen here, we are going to have developed carbon capture technology.” “This conversation is happening and happening fast,” she continued, noting that the other countries have already accelerated their research in the area. She noted that the infrastructure bill that has been proposed by the Biden administration, which contains funding for clean energy technologies, includes money for developing four regional hydrogen hubs focused on producing the fuel using fossil fuels, renewable energy, and nuclear energy. Appalachia, with its abundant natural gas and favorable geology for carbon sequestration, could be a location. Hydrogen can have applications for long-haul trucking, ships, and the industrial sector, and developing a way to make it cost-effective will help grow the market, she explained. David Lauteri, senior manager of government relations at Mitsubishi, explained that a number of policy considerations remain to be resolved, including a consistent definition of “clean hydrogen” from state to state, whether it will be considered an energy storage mechanism, and if it will be considered a renewable or fossil fuel energy source. As government, industry and research institutions work to ramp up both hydrogen production and CCS technologies, the tone at the conference was that it was imperative that it happen soon as decarbonization efforts move forward.

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