Well, whaddaya know. No sooner does New Jersey let slip that it has a new green hydrogen pilot project in the works, when here comes archrival New York right across the river with a whole truckload of green hydrogen news. And they do mean green hydrogen from renewable resources, not that other stuff the natural gas lobby is trying to pass off as “clean.”

Big Apple Goes Gaga Over Green Hydrogen

New York’s big hydrogen announcement is no coincidence. It piles onto the US Department of Energy, which dropped another $52.2 million on hydrogen R&D earlier this week. Most of the Energy Department greenbacks are aimed directly at teasing green hydrogen out of water. The rest apply to projects that extract hydrogen from natural gas, but the technology could also be applied to various forms of sustainable hydrogen, such as biogas.

New York is skipping over the natural gas part, which is no surprise given the state’s prickly relationship with gas, and going straight for the green hydrogen gold.

They have pulled some heavy hitters into the green hydrogen arena. The new announcement enlists the mighty New York Power Authority and the Electric Power Research Institute, which is based in California and has been pivoting from fossil fuels into renewable energy. The last time we checked in, EPRI was hooking into a huge EV and power grid consortium in Texas. Just yesterday they announced a new competitively selected cohort for their latest R&D incubator. The 20 winning startups will work on “demonstration technology projects intended to accelerate decarbonization, electrification, grid modernization, and other electric power industry innovation imperatives.”

NYPA and EPRI have been tapped with General Electric and the specialty gas firm Airgas in a green hydrogen pilot project to be located at a natural gas plant on Long Island, which almost sounds like it could be a natural gas-to-hydrogen project except not, because the project is aimed at measuring different blends of hydrogen in a natural gas turbine.

GE is one of several legacy engineering firms that have become active in the area of blending hydrogen and natural gas in gas turbines. One approach is to design new turbines that are specially made to handle an increasing proportion of hydrogen. The Long Island project is especially interesting because it deploys a 20-year-old GE gas turbine.

If it pans out, then gas power plants all over the country could begin transitioning to green hydrogen without having to invest in new turbines. That’s an important consideration for the US, which became splattered with new gas turbines after the cost of gas dropped in the early 2000s.

The good news is that low-cost gas provided the initial kick for driving coal out of the US power generation market. The bad news is that gas power generation stakeholders are stuck with relatively new gas turbines, but a growing number of leading electricity buyers and other ratepayers are demanding carbon-free electricity. The hydrogen blend idea could help get them off the hook until something better comes around.

Green Hydrogen For Deep Decarbonization

If you’re thinking fuel cell electric vehicles are part of the New York announcement, nope. Once they hit the road, automobiles fall into the category of decarbonization lite. Everybody knows how to decarbonize cars, at least from the tailpipe on out.

The motor vehicle supply chain is a whole ‘nother can of decarbonization worms. Whether you have a fuel cell electric vehicle, a battery electric vehicle, or a plain old gasmobile in your driveway, they all spew invisible bubbles of greenhouse gas from factories all along the supply chain, from tires and body to all the innards.

The solution is deep decarbonization, which refers to detaching heavy industries and other carbon intensive sectors from fossil energy. That’s a tough row to hoe. Hydropower fits some of the bill, including the all-important energy storage angle. Wind and solar can also lend a hand in combination with battery-type energy storage. Green hydrogen comes into the picture as a flexible, transportable energy carrier that can provide storage, generate electricity, or provide the juice for gas turbines and other thermal uses.

To tackle that end of things, The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority will be building up its ongoing deep decarbonization work. Last December the agency co-hosted a “Deep Decarbonization Workshop” with the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation. The new announcement sets up a more intensive look-and-listen session this fall. Here, let’s have NYSERDA explain:

“The session will be used to help NYSERDA understand how to expand stakeholder engagement to ensure that additional assessment of the pathways, opportunities, and challenges of generating and utilizing green hydrogen across all sectors includes consideration of all stakeholder perspectives, including environmental justice organizations and communities.”

The Hydrogen Economy Goes Green

Because hydrogen is an abundant, zero emission fuel, there has been talk of a global “hydrogen economy” or “hydrogen society” for ages. The problem is that hydrogen has to be extracted from something.

Right now, almost all of that something is natural gas, and part of it is coal, so fossil energy stakeholders have been riding high on the idea of the hydrogen economy. However, the cost of non-fossil hydrogen sources is dropping quickly, and fossil energy stakeholders  will have to think fast.

Naturally enough, natural gas stakeholders have an interest in promoting the hydrogen economy as a decarbonization thing to which they can contribute. Their idea is to add carbon capture to the process of steam reformation, which is the primary method for extracting hydrogen from natural gas. Some stakeholders are also experimenting with an emerging technology called autothermal reforming.

That still leaves a steaming pile of local and global impacts related to fugitive methane emissions throughout the natural gas extraction and distribution chain, as well as stress on water resources from drilling operations, including the disposal of drilling wastewater.

In a cold dose of reality for natural gas stakeholders, researchers are already studying how steam and autothermal reforming can be applied to extract hydrogen from biogas. So, have at it, you natural gas stakeholders. See what you can do to improve the technology, and then watch as somebody else applies it to more sustainable, non-fossil resources.

Anyways, much of the green hydrogen R&D activity taking place nowadays is aimed at driving down the cost of electrolysis, which refers to deploying an electrical current to pop hydrogen gas out of water, so it’s possible that New York can build its sparkling green hydrogen economy on water and electricity.

Natural gas stakeholders may be hoping that “electricity” means more room for gas power plants. Dream on, Klingon.

NYSERDA is hooking up with the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory to “compile the foundational, base-line information and data that will enable New York to have robust discussions and dialogue around the role green hydrogen could play in New York’s decarbonization plans,” and that discussion will be aimed at aligning the hydrogen strategy with “existing mandates for 70 percent renewable electricity by 2030 and 100 percent zero-emission electricity by 2040.”

Whither Natural Gas In The Hydrogen Economy Of The Future?

That thing about “zero-emission electricity by 2040” leaves some wiggle room for carbon capture, but not much. Part of New York’s hydrogen announcement involves new funding for long duration energy storage technology, which could eliminate or at least sharply reduce the need for gas power plants altogether.

The idea is that the current state of battery-type energy storage only permits a few hours of peak use. To fill in for gas power plants, a storage facility needs to provide for at least a full day, and preferably more than that.

In any case, New York is not interested in anything on the market today.

“Project submissions should advance, develop, or field-test hydrogen, electric, chemical, mechanical, or thermal-electric storage technologies that will address cost, performance, and renewable integration challenges in New York State,” they specify, adding that “Submissions must only include innovative long duration energy storage technologies which are yet to be commercialized.”

Right back at you, New Jersey. Last week the state’s Board of Public Utilities greenlighted the proposed Atlantic Shores offshore wind farm, which includes a pilot green hydrogen facility in its winning bid, but it appears that New York has vaulted ahead.

Stay tuned for Round 2, whatever that may be.

Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.

Image: Renewable hydrogen is encroaching on natural gas territory (via National Renewable Energy Laboratory).

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