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University of California, Irvine will work with SoCalGas to pump 5-20% green hydrogen blends into its existing gas grid.

By Callum Cyrus

Southern California Gas has entered agreement with University of California, Irvine to explore electrolytic green hydrogen fuels that could be integrated with existing gas grids around UC Irvine's college campus, SoCalGas said September 9. 

SoCalGas will spearhead research and development with the aim of achieving hydrogen blending as soon as 2024, as part of an envisaged test phase. The technology would entail the use of an electrolyser to convert water into hydrogen, which would then have to be tailored to the specifications of existing UCI gas pipelines.

UCI anticipates that the gas grid will pump green hydrogen and natural gas composites to fuel residential and commercial equipment, everything from student apartment water heaters to commercial ovens in campus kitchens.

Initially, the gas grid will transport up to 5% green hydrogen, but the partners aim to increase this to 20% over time, creating "potentially significant" carbon emissions reductions.

Jack Brouwer, UCI professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, says his research indicates renewable power use simply will not be achieved without the "features" of hydrogen.

Brouwer added: "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 idea is to help SoCalGas better understand the scope for grid delivery of green hydrogen, in line with plans to establish a statewide protocol for injecting green H2 molecules in gaseous form.

This could mean either existing customers on SoCalGas's gas grid receiving green hydrogen blends, or else pumping hydrogen to power plants to fuel "clean electricity in zero-emissions fuel cells."

Neil Navin, vice president for clean energy innovation at SoCalGas, said the same concepts used in UC Irvine's testing environment could one day inform the development of small off-grid neighbourhood gas networks that factor in low-carbon fuel mixtures.

Navin said: "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.

"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."

Kristine Wiley, vice president of energy transition consultancy GTI Energy, believes hydrogen integration into energy grids will anchor adoption of hydrogen fuels in coming years, and says SoCalGas's project is an ideal "proving ground".

"Hydrogen will play an important role in reducing CO2 emissions while also enabling access to clean energy in various sectors of our economy," Wiley said, "This project will be a proving ground for how we leverage our existing infrastructure to transport and supply clean hydrogen."