San Diego Gas & Electric Company proposes feasibility study, development of hydrogen injections for plastic natural gas pipes

Published on September 13, 2022 by Chris Galford

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A demonstration project proposed to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) last week by the San Diego Gas & Electric Company (SDG&E) would test the feasibility of injecting up to 20 percent of hydrogen into a plastic natural gas pipe to inform the development of a statewide blending standard.

The pilot project seeks to fill knowledge gaps and aid California’s larger energy transition goals, along with its intended by-2045 pivot to carbon neutrality. In partnership with the University of California San Diego, the project would utilize an isolated section of a gas line serving an apartment complex and utilize hydrogen blended gas for common building equipment – think boilers and water heaters. Plastic natural gas pipes like this tend to be common materials for natural gas infrastructure, making it a good reference point.

Through hydrogen produced onsite with a dedicated, grid-connected electrolyzer, SDG&E would pump the hydrogen blend in and study the results to help inform the development of a new, renewable hydrogen blending standard for the state at large. If successful, it would also promote a key recommendation from the CPUC-sponsored Hydrogen Blending Impacts study, which called for utilities to conduct real-world demonstrations to pursue knowledge modeling or lab experiments cannot yield.

“Achieving the state’s climate goals, including reaching carbon neutrality by 2045, will require a broad range of clean energy technologies,” Caroline Winn, SDG&E CEO, said. “That’s why we are investing in the research, development, and demonstration of emerging hydrogen innovations that have the potential to be a game changer. Developing clean fuels like hydrogen is key to creating a clean, reliable, and climate-resilient energy sector while also stimulating economic and job growth.”

SDG&E made the proposal jointly with SoCalGas and Southwest Gas, building upon the latest research and international experiences, including the HyDeploy pilot in the U.K., which similarly demonstrated the results of injecting up to 20 percent of hydrogen into a university’s natural gas network. That study showed no negative interactions with existing materials at those levels.

The industry has shown increasing curiosity about hydrogen’s potential in this area due to its widespread use in industrial and manufacturing processes and the possibility it could be used in gas pipelines, to power fuel cell vehicles, and to be stored and reconfigured easily.

If approved by regulators, construction for the new project would likely start in the second quarter of 2024. Blending could begin later that year and would continue through early 2026, after which SDG&E would restore the demonstration site to its original condition.