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CERAWeek: North America pipeline execs ready to embrace hydrogen shipments

04 March 2021 Kevin Adler

Pipeline operators have an important role to play in the transition to the use of cleaner energy and are already taking steps to get involved in the transportation of hydrogen, two North American pipeline executives told CERAWeek 2021 by IHS Markit conference attendees.

"This is a big opportunity, because at the end of the day, any new technology like hydrogen is going to require transportation. That's where existing assets come into play," said Al Monaco, CEO of pipeline operator Enbridge.

Alan Armstrong, president and CEO of the Williams Cos., said the company is ready to embrace transporting hydrogen. "One of the big challenges with renewables is localized development and the cost of transportation," he said. "The localized gas network we have really has helped solve that problem."

There are about 1,600 miles of hydrogen pipelines currently operating in the US, according to the US Department of Energy (DOE). Most of these pipelines are owned by hydrogen producers and are located in areas, such as the Gulf Coast, where refineries and chemical plants that use large amounts of hydrogen are located. The challenge going forward is to move larger volumes of hydrogen across greater distances.

A "Hydrogen Strategy" report released by DOE in July 2020 stated that while natural gas pipelines provide a low-cost solution to transporting large amounts of hydrogen gas, "the high initial capital costs of new pipeline construction constitute a major barrier to expanding hydrogen pipeline delivery infrastructure."

While using existing pipelines would alleviate that problem, Monaco said there are technical challenges as well. In some older pipelines, hydrogen raises concerns about embrittlement and leaks, he said. Transporting hydrogen also requires more compression, the Enbridge CEO said.

Enbridge is conducting pilot programs in Quebec and Ontario, Canada, Monaco said. The Ontario project, announced in November 2020, will blend renewable hydrogen gas into Enbridge's existing natural gas network to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The company said the project is the first of its kind in North America. "We have really moved the technology understanding along quite well," he said.

Government support appears available for hydrogen, which Monaco said could help the industry drive down costs and work out technological issues with older pipes.

Shouting from the rooftops

Hydrogen is one aspect of what Armstrong said should be "shouting from the rooftops" by the natural gas industry and pipelines about the benefits of both natural gas and hydrogen to reduce emissions. "If we would look for those opportunities to work together and not demonize something because it's associated with fossil fuels, we have a lot of opportunity," he said.

Pipelines are not large methane emitters in the gas value chain, contributing only about 2%, Monaco said. But that doesn't mean Enbridge isn't taking climate change seriously, as it has promised an interim emissions intensity target reduction of 35% by 2030 and net zero by 2050.

"We took two years to come to this target. We came down to four things to get us there," Monaco said. Those four strategies are modernizing of assets, using predictive analytics, solar-self-powering of pumps and compressors, and building a big renewables and solar business.

Based on original reporting by Steve Cronin, OPIS; and Annalisa Kraft-Linder, PointLogic Energy.

Posted 04 March 2021 by Kevin Adler, Chief Editor


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