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SoCalGas to test technology that separates hydrogen from natural gas when the two are blended in pipelines

With clean hydrogen gaining recognition worldwide as a carbon-free fuel capable of making a significant contribution to addressing climate change, Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas) will field test a new technology that can simultaneously separate and compress hydrogen from a blend of hydrogen and natural gas.

Created by Netherlands-based HyET Hydrogen, the technology is designed to provide pure highly-compressed hydrogen wherever a natural gas distribution system exists.

Ehc

Operation principle of an electrochemical hydrogen compressor. Rhandi et al.


The new technology—Electrochemical Hydrogen Purification and Compression (EHPC)—works by applying an electrical current across a hydrogen-selective membrane to allow only hydrogen to permeate it while blocking the natural gas components. Continuously applying the electrical current builds up and pressurizes the hydrogen.

  • Hydrogen is supplied to the anode side of the membrane surface where a platinum-alloy catalyst splits the molecule into protons. The electrons are transferred via an external circuit to the catalyst layer on the opposite side of the proton exchange membrane (PEM).

  • An externally applied current forces the protons through the membrane inducing mass transport of hydrogen. After passing through the membrane, the protons recombine as hydrogen molecules on the output (cathode) side.

  • The current enables the transport of hydrogen against its concentration gradient, from low pressure on the anode side to high pressure on the cathode side in a single step. One electron equals one proton, equals half a hydrogen gas molecule.

  • As the (PEM) membrane is only permeable for hydrogen protons and acts as a barrier for other components in the gas. In this way, hydrogen can be extracted to fuel cell purity from mixes containing nitrogen, methane, argon, water (vapor), etc.

  • The core of the compressors is a series of compression cells that each act as an individual compressor and together form a compression stack.

MEA

To test the technology, SoCalGas will blend hydrogen in concentrations from 3-15%, with methane, the primary component of natural gas. That blend of gases will then be injected through a simulated natural gas pipeline testing system into the EHPC system to continuously extract and compress the hydrogen at a rate of 10 kg per day.

SoCalGas’ testing will provide performance data that will enable fine-tuning and optimization of the EHPC system to accelerate scaling up the technology. Within the next two years, the EHPC technology is expected to be scaled to produce 100 kg of hydrogen a day or more from a single EHPC system, enough to fill 20 fuel cell electric vehicles.

The project is scheduled to begin in March at SoCalGas’ Engineering Analysis Center in Pico Rivera, California and slated to be complete by the third quarter of 2021.

At scale, the technology would allow hydrogen to be easily and affordably transported via the natural gas pipeline system, then extracted and compressed at fueling stations that provide hydrogen for fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs).

SoCalGas also recently announced a program to study blending hydrogen into its natural gas pipelines. If approved by regulators, the program would be the first step toward establishing a statewide standard for injecting hydrogen into the natural gas grid.

This innovative technology could be a game-changer, allowing hydrogen to be distributed to wherever it is needed using the natural gas grid. As demand increases for zero-emissions vehicles such as fuel cell electric cars, California will need thousands more hydrogen fueling stations—and this technology may help make that possible.

—Neil Navin, vice president of clean energy innovations at SoCalGas

Resources

  • Maha Rhandi, Marine Trégaro, Florence Druart, Jonathan Deseure, Marian Chatenet (2020) “Electrochemical hydrogen compression and purification versus competing technologies: Part I. Pros and cons,” Chinese Journal of Catalysis, Volume 41, Issue 5, Pages 756-769 doi: 10.1016/S1872-2067(19)63404-2

Comments

Davemart

The so-called 'impossible' barriers for hydrogen mobility are crumbling fast.

SJC_1

This has been done in Hawaii.
H2 should be used for high value added applications.

Davemart

Just about every country which has produced a plan for decarbonisation relies heavily on hydrogen to do so, including those such as Germany where it will have to be largely imported.

Two factors are driving then ongoing cost reductions making this possible, ever falling costs for renewables and electrolysis.

Without extensive use of hydrogen, and not only in high value applications, decarbonisation is just not happening, and there no country has put forward a plan which does not involve it in huge quantity.

Even BEV charging certainly at fast rates needs hydrogen to provide clean power and prevent grid overloads:

https://fuelcellsworks.com/news/uk-hydrogen-power-specialist-afc-energy-and-abb-partner-to-power-up-the-future-of-clean-ev-charging/

Personally it seems that where practicable it might be preferable to put the fuel cells in the car rather than in the recharging stations, but they will be used in both places, and we will see how it all works out.

Lad

So, the idea is to use energy to reform and compress natural gas into hydrogen and then mix it with natural gas and use the existing natural gas pipelines for distribution; then use electrical energy to separate the hydrogen back out.
Looks as if the oil companies are pulling out all the stops to bring H2 to market.

Davemart

@Lad

' So, the idea is to use energy to reform and compress natural gas into hydrogen and then mix it with natural gas and use the existing natural gas pipelines for distribution;'

Nope. You might have a clue if you had just clicked on their website where the first thing they are talking about is hydrogen from renewables..

That is just like the plans in the UK, Germany and the Netherlands who are all moving to storing surplus renewables as hydrogen instead of simply throwing them away as they currently do.

The eventual plan is to decarbonise the entire NG grid and use hydrogen from renewables in the UK.

But this can deal with the initial mixes as are being trialled right now and separate them out.

Lad

@Davemart:
I believe that the H2 will more likely be generated by reforming when there are oil companies involved, especially when using fossil fuel assets, i.e., gas pipelines,
Also, I would greatly appreciate your points be made without the personal attacking. That way information can continued to be intelligently exchanged on a high level.

SJC_1

Lad,
You have never insulted anyone?
There is an achieve here.

Engineer-Poet

There's a lot to be understood here.

  1. The separation of H2 from CH4 requires a lot more than a chemical process.  It requires the transformation of a pipeline network from a MW of ~16 toward a MW of ~2, which requires changes in everything else.
  2. All of the added energy comes from electricity.
  Seiously, realize where it comes from.  This requires more changes than you understand.

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