Congress explores the possibility of moving hydrogen through existing gas pipelines

WASHINGTON — Congress is considering whether the nation’s existing gas pipeline system should be used to move hydrogen, allowing its use as a transportation fuel.

In a Senate hearing this week, lawmakers questioned energy industry officials about the feasibility of blending hydrogen and natural gas and whether the government needs to establish a regulatory system for their allow to do so.

An Oklahoma-based Williams Cos. executive said their interstate pipelines can safely transport a mixture of gas and up to 20% hydrogen.

“We have the opportunity to develop a hydrogen economy with the technology that already exists in our infrastructure today,” said Chad Zamarin, senior vice president at Williams.

Oil and clean energy companies are already moving to extend hydrogen power to the transportation sector, with Houston and its abundant supplies of cheap natural gas seen as a potential hub for the industry.

The pipelines would provide the fledgling industry with a vast infrastructure through which to move the product. All of the hydrogen currently produced in the world would occupy just 10% of just one of Williams’ existing gas pipelines, Zamarin said.

Congress is eager to see hydrogen expand beyond its existing market in the industrial sector. Sen. Joe Manchin, DW.Va, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said switching to hydrogen as a transportation fuel could not only help reduce carbon emissions from the U.S. energy sector , but also to stimulate the American economy.

“We have a lot of work to do to achieve our hydrogen goals,” he said. “We need to accelerate these efforts.

Hydrogen is a small market today, with US demand of 11 million metric tons per year, compared to oil demand of nearly 1 billion million metric tons per year. But if the trucking industry and other heavy transport were to switch to hydrogen from diesel, that number would be multiplied by many.

Already, several U.S. pipeline companies are running pilot projects to see the possible effects of hydrogen blending on their systems, said Frank Wolak, president of the Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Energy Association, a trade group.

“We are happy that these conversations are starting,” he said. “Let’s put rules in place now so that when people want to start injecting hydrogen into their pipelines, we’re ready to go.”

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