Separating Hydrogen Facts from Fiction

  • Adam Kay
  • Hydrogen is currently getting a lot of justified attention. This is understandable – after all, the potential for hydrogen and hydrogen blends to transform the U.S energy system through energy storage, decreasing carbon intensity of heavy industry, and the use in homes for water heating, cooking, and related applications is hard to overstate. There is, however, misinformation being spread that hydrogen is somehow new and untested. The fact is, there’s a long and productive history of hydrogen being used safely, affordably, and effectively in the United States and across the world.

    Until the 1960s, most of the natural gas used in North America was what’s known as “Town gas,” which is a mixture of hydrogen, carbon monoxide and natural gas, with small amounts of carbon dioxide and nitrogen. This Town gas could be up to 50 percent hydrogen. Town gas continued to be a valuable source of energy for Americans through the 1980’s until being supplanted by affordable, easily accessible natural gas. In Hawaii today, the gas mixture used contains approximately 15 percent hydrogen by mass. The myth that gas utilities don’t know how to work with hydrogen is exactly that, a myth.

    Another unfortunately prevalent myth is the idea that hydrogen is particularly unsafe. The evidence outlined in “Enabling Higher-Hydrogen Blending in Natural Gas Distribution Systems – Distributing Hydrogen at >5% into Natural Gas Energy Distribution Systems” found that a natural gas distribution system that is ‘leak tight’ will remain ‘leak tight’ with hydrogen. If it does leak, the properties of hydrogen can be helpful for mitigating that leak. Hydrogen is a small molecule that’s fourteen times lighter than air, making it prone to rise and disperse quickly, avoiding pooling in low-lying areas.

    Hydrogen is a force-multiplier in our efforts to tackle climate change. The world invested $130 billion in hydrogen in 2021. The Biden administration focused heavily on renewable hydrogen in the Inflation Reduction Act. Green hydrogen can be made with electrolyzers when you have excess renewable energy. Blue hydrogen can be produced from natural gas in facilities incorporating carbon capture to ensure carbon neutrality.

    In addition to energy storage, hydrogen has incredible applications as everything from a carbon-neutral alternative to jet fuel to creating carbon-neutral steel. Ammonia from green hydrogen can even be used as fertilizer, ensuring food security for billions while helping to decarbonize agriculture and energy infrastructure. No wonder governments and corporations are investing in hydrogen!

    American gas utilities are committed to a safe, clean, and affordable energy system. The expertise the industry has in transporting gaseous fuels safely and reliably will be critical to building the energy mix of the future, and in ensuring that customers continue to have safe, reliable, and affordable energy.