The Next Energy Pipe Dream: Hydrogen in Natural Gas Pipelines

A critical milestone in the path to a net zero carbon future is known as the ‘20% hydrogen’ goal. As hydrogen is the only clean burning fuel with zero carbon emissions that can be blended with existing fuel for combustion with minimal change to existing combustion infrastructure. 20% refers to the blending of hydrogen with natural gas to reduce overall carbon emissions. The idea is simple: running turbines, or other natural gas processes, with blended hydrogen, can reduce emissions enough to earn us the time to develop new, pure-hydrogen technologies and meet the world’s energy needs and sustainability goals.

The United States, along with International Energy Agency (IEA), is aggressively pursuing the goal of achieving a net zero carbon emission by 2050. Yet, carbon emissions from energy production and industrial processes still account for nearly 36GTon of CO2 as of 2021 (Figure 1) – and emissions levels have shown no signs of slowing down. The 20% H2 blend milestone – and the extra time it earns us – is critical as we advance towards technologies capable of generating ‘green hydrogen’ and processes that run on clean-burning hydrogen alone.

More than 90% of all CO­2 emitted comes from fossil fuel-based energy use (coal, natural gas, and oil). To decarbonize, we cannot wait for a single silver bullet but must leverage innovations that can be deployed now while we further develop net zero fuels and processes. Hydrogen (H2) is considered the primary candidate for the eventual replacement of existing carbon-based fuel but blending it with today’s gas streams yields immediate benefits.

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