SoCalGas and the University of California, Irvine announce hydrogen blending project

Source: press release, 9 September 2022

Vice president of clean energy innovations at SoCalGas, Neil Navin
Vice president of clean energy innovations at SoCalGas, Neil Navin (photo: Southern California Gas Co.)

Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas) and the University of California, Irvine (UCI) has announced a proposed collaboration to demonstrate how electrolytic hydrogen can be safely blended into existing natural gas infrastructure on the university’s campus. The project aims to help better understand how clean fuels like renewable hydrogen could be delivered at scale through California’s existing natural gas system, either to existing customers connected to the gas grid, or to generate clean electricity in zero-emissions fuel cells. The demonstration is an important next step in establishing a state-wide injection standard for renewable hydrogen that would promote California’s clean energy and resiliency goals. If approved, SoCalGas could begin testing hydrogen blending at UCI as soon as 2024.

“The use of existing natural gas networks to transport renewable hydrogen is actively being pursued around the world because clean fuels like hydrogen can do many of the critical jobs that natural gas does today,” says Neil Navin, vice president for clean energy innovations at SoCalGas. “This demonstration project offers a real-world environment to better understand how clean fuel blends can be delivered to customers connected to the gas grid today. It can also help us assess how to more quickly deploy advanced technologies key to the state’s climate and clean air goals such as neighbourhood micro-grids that promote reliability and resiliency.”

“Research at UCI has shown that we cannot achieve high renewable power use without the features of hydrogen,” says Jack Brouwer, UCI professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and director of the UCI-based National Fuel Cell Research Center. “The massive storage and resilient underground transmission and distribution of renewable energy that will be enabled by transformation of the gas system to renewable and clean hydrogen use will be investigated and advanced in this important effort.”

“The current heat wave we are experiencing makes clear the urgency of decarbonising our economy as quickly as possible,” says Senator Dave Min (D-Irvine). “I’m proud to represent UC Irvine, which has been a leading research hub for new green technologies, including in the important area of hydrogen fuel. UCI is an ideal location for this demonstration project, which should help us make significant progress in fighting climate change and restoring a bright future for our children and grandchildren.”

SoCalGas’ collaboration with UCI is part of a hydrogen blending demonstration application jointly filed with San Diego Gas & Electric Company (SDG&E) and Southwest Gas with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC).

The demonstration project builds upon the California Public Utilities Commission “Hydrogen Blending Impacts Study”, performed by University of California, Riverside (UCR). The study recommended testing hydrogen blending in a real-world environment as an important step toward establishing a California hydrogen blending standard, which could accelerate the state’s clean energy and resiliency goals.

As proposed, UCI would use an electrolyser to convert water into hydrogen for blending into the existing gas grid on sections of the UCI campus. The demonstration would power existing residential and light commercial equipment, including water heaters, boilers, furnaces, and ovens in academic buildings, student amenities, and housing. The project would initially blend 5% hydrogen, with a goal of gradually increasing the hydrogen blend up to 20%, resulting in potentially significant CO2 emissions reductions.

“Hydrogen will play an important role in reducing CO2 emissions while also enabling access to clean energy in various sectors of our economy,” says Kristine Wiley, vice president of the Hydrogen Technology Center at GTI Energy. “Advancing how we integrate hydrogen into our energy system is critical to the scale up and implementation of this technology. This project will be a proving ground for how we leverage our existing infrastructure to transport and supply clean hydrogen.”

“The establishment of a statewide renewable hydrogen blending standard could help scale green hydrogen production, which in turn can drive down costs for its widespread adoption across the state,” says Navin. “A 20% clean hydrogen blend in a system as large as Southern California’s could reduce CO2 emissions in an amount equivalent to removing more than a million passenger vehicles from the road for a year.”

“Hydrogen blending provides real and meaningful opportunities for participation in the clean energy economy for the tens of thousands of highly skilled southern California union members who build, operate, and maintain the natural gas utility infrastructure today,” says Jon Preciado, business manager for the Southern California District Council of Laborers.