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Existing Natural Gas Pipelines Could Carry Hydrogen, Too

Map of Natural Gas Pipelines in the Continental US
Map of Natural Gas Pipelines in the Continental US

According to the US Department of Energy, natural gas pipelines are an ideal way to distribute natural gas, even blended with hydrogen. Actually, blending hydrogen and natural gas is nothing new, and dates back to the mid-1800s.

The adoption of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles seems to be hinging on the development of the infrastructure to fuel them, but what we don’t realize is that the infrastructure is right under our feet.

In the US there are just a very few public-access hydrogen refueling stations, which begs the question, “If we’re going to make the switch to hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, how are we going to refuel them?”

Of course this is a valid concern, and has led many to believe that it could cost billions to implement hydrogen infrastructure including generation, distribution, and refueling facilities. What we might not have realized is that we have a working infrastructure already in place, and it’s right under our feet.

Manufactured gas in those times was a blend of up to 50% hydrogen with natural or petroleum gas. The practice of blending hydrogen continued until the 1950s in the continental US, and Hawaii still blends hydrogen with its natural gas.

Today, there are some 2.44 million miles of natural gas pipeline, hundreds of underground storage facilities. About 25% of total US energy consumption was serviced by these lines in 2010, so is the hydrogen infrastructure already in place? If so, then why are we trying to reinvent the wheel?

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