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Fossil Energy’s Role in Accelerating a Clean Affordable Hydrogen Future Outlined in New Report

A detailed final report was released Monday, Feb. 14 by NETL that encapsulates public and private sector input and key themes associated with fossil energy’s role in enabling an accelerated and affordable clean hydrogen future.

The report, “Enabling an Accelerated and Affordable Clean Hydrogen Future – Fossil Energy Sector’s Role Workshop Final Report, was based on a two-day workshop hosted by NETL and Gas Technology Institute (GTI) in September. 

NETL Director Brian Anderson, U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Fossil Energy & Carbon Management (FECM) Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Jennifer Wilcox, and NETL Research & Innovation Center Director Bryan Morreale facilitated the exchange of ideas to leverage the nation’s fossil energy industries in creating clean hydrogen for decarbonization of the nation’s economy. More than 90 persons participated from 45 different organizations representing research, power generation, public utilities, natural gas production, natural gas pipeline and distribution, steel production, specialty gas supply, manufacturing, technology development, federal and state governments, and the legal community.

The fossil energy sector’s expertise and capabilities in hydrogen production, natural gas pipelines and storage, power production, and industrial energy usage will be valuable resources to economically buildout a hydrogen infrastructure to help meet the nation’s aggressive decarbonization goals.  These resources are particularly needed for implementation of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which includes $8 billion in funding for the buildout of at least four regional hydrogen hubs over the next decade.  

Hydrogen has held the interest of scientists as a source of energy since the 1800s due to its abundance and high energy per unit mass, but has become the recent focus of national and international attention for its potential to decarbonize a number of energy-intensive sectors. 

While the application of hydrogen as an energy source results in zero emissions, the production of hydrogen currently relies on steam methane reforming, which is energy intensive and releases CO2 to the atmosphere. NETL researches several methods for hydrogen production in combination with carbon capture and storage to produce clean hydrogen with little to no CO2 emissions. Alternative pathways of hydrogen production via water electrolysis in a solid oxide electrolysis cell or via methane pyrolysis, which directly converts methane into solid carbon and hydrogen gas, are also being studied at NETL.  

The report addresses a wide range of specific themes that emerged from the keynote presentations, panels and breakout sessions. Some key themes resulting from the workshop include the following:

  • Production and utilization of clean hydrogen must increase by 50-fold from 10 million tons per year (Mtpa) to greater than 500 Mtpa by 2050 if decarbonization goals are to be met. 
  • Government leadership will be critical in achieving the stated decarbonization objective, not only in terms of significant tax credits and incentives but also in terms of research, development and demonstration (RD&D) funding and collaboration across government entities at all levels to reduce permitting, regulatory, and economic barriers to implementation of hydrogen projects.
  • Carbon capture and storage (CCS ) will be critical for production of hydrogen from fossil fuels, with proactive government action required to reduce long term carbon storage liability risks and Class IV CO2 injection well permitting timelines. 
  • Industry is eager to move forward, at a variety of scales and using a variety of approaches, to take advantage of what is seen as a growing demand for hydrogen in the U.S. energy portfolio. There is also significant potential to retrofit existing fossil-based hydrogen production facilities with carbon capture for nearby storage. 
  • Techno-economic and life cycle analyses for hydrogen and ammonia pathways need to be objectively performed to guide policy choices and pathways forward
  • Efforts to expand hydrogen should leverage initial opportunities in areas that couple high feedstock capacity, large volume infrastructure, significant storage capacity, and a nearby industrial base. An important regional variable is the availability of geologic storage options for both hydrogen and carbon dioxide (CO2) in places where industrial demand is centered.
  • Successful buildout of hydrogen hubs will likely require an “all-hands-on-deck” approach, with partnerships between industry, academia, government, non-profits, and community groups needed to ensure acceptance, safety, economic viability, and a smooth transition.

NETL is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory that drives innovation and delivers technological solutions for an environmentally sustainable and prosperous energy future. By leveraging its world-class talent and research facilities, NETL is ensuring affordable, abundant and reliable energy that drives a robust economy and national security, while developing technologies to manage carbon across the full life cycle, enabling environmental sustainability for all Americans.