SoCalGas and Bloom Energy showcase technology to power hydrogen economy with gas blending project

Source: press release, 14 December 2021

Bloom Energy is engaged with industry leaders to accelerate the global hydrogen economy
Bloom Energy is engaged with industry leaders to accelerate the global hydrogen economy (photo: Bloom Energy)

Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas), the largest natural gas distribution utility in the US, and Bloom Energy have announced a project to showcase the future of the hydrogen economy and the technologies needed to help California reach carbon neutrality. The companies will collaborate to generate and then blend hydrogen into a university customer’s existing natural gas network to demonstrate how the natural gas infrastructure can be decarbonised, while balancing future energy supply and demand. The project is set to launch next year on the campus of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena.

“California has ambitious climate goals, and a successful energy transition will require companies to collaborate and implement innovative projects,” says California State Assembly member Chris Holden. “This unique demonstration could help our state transition to a carbon neutral future.”

The collaboration will utilise Bloom Energy’s solid oxide, high temperature electrolyser to generate hydrogen, which will then be injected into Caltech’s natural gas infrastructure. The resulting 10% hydrogen blend will be converted into electricity without combustion through existing Bloom Energy fuel cells downstream of the SoCalGas meter, producing electricity for a portion of the university. For the purpose of this project, the electrolyser is designed to generate hydrogen from grid electricity.

At scale, the electrolyser and fuel cell combination could enable long duration clean energy storage and low-carbon distributed power generation through the gas network for businesses, residential neighbourhoods, and dense urban areas. When configured as a microgrid, it could also provide resilient power when and where energy is needed most, protecting businesses, campuses or neighbourhoods from widespread power outages.

“We need to pursue a diverse set of decarbonisation levers,” says Maryam Brown, president, SoCalGas. “Projects like this expand and accelerate clean fuel initiatives, which will help decarbonise California faster.”

Bloom’s high-temperature electrolyser produces hydrogen more efficiently than low-temperature PEM and alkaline electrolysers. Because it operates at high temperatures, the Bloom Electrolyser requires less energy to break up water molecules and produce hydrogen. Electricity accounts for nearly 80% of the cost of hydrogen from electrolysis. By using less electricity, hydrogen production becomes more economical and will accelerate adoption. The Bloom Electrolyser is also designed to produce green hydrogen from 100% renewable power.

“With our technology and collaborations like this one, Bloom Energy continues to lead advancements in decarbonising today’s energy system and accelerating a hydrogen-fuelled economy,” says Sharelynn Moore, executive vice president and chief marketing officer, Bloom Energy. “Enabling both the production and utilisation of hydrogen, Bloom Energy’s solutions are well-suited to support use of the natural gas network to reduce carbon emissions while bolstering energy resilience.”

A new economy-wide technical analysis released by SoCalGas revealed that fuel cell technology, powered by clean fuels like hydrogen, can provide additional reliability and resiliency that will be in increasing demand as California moves towards its decarbonisation goals.