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NETL researchers are pursuing an all-hands-on-deck effort to determine hydrogen production’s current state-of-the-art and what is needed to reach the low-cost, net-zero emissions goals of the #EarthShot Initiative
NETL Supporting the Development of Future Hydrogen Infrastructure on Multiple Fronts

NETL’s Strategic Systems Analysis & Engineering (SSAE) researchers and analysts are pursuing an all-hands-on-deck effort to realize a clean energy future by harnessing the nation’s fossil energy resources to produce hydrogen sustainably through the use of commercial and advanced hydrogen production and carbon dioxide capture technologies.

Fossil fuel-derived hydrogen (H2) presents new opportunities to decarbonize challenging sectors of the economy, such as transportation and decentralized, distributed industrial applications.

In June, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced an aggressive crosscutting initiative for hydrogen production called the Hydrogen Energy EarthShot with the goal of reducing the cost of clean hydrogen production to $1/kg H2 by the year 2030. This initiative supports the Biden-Harris Administration’s goal of a net-zero carbon emissions economy by 2050 while creating good-paying union jobs and growing the economy. 

Developing advanced technologies for reforming America’s abundant natural gas resources and gasification systems to convert carbon-containing resources—such as waste coal, biomass, and municipal solid waste/plastics—to H2 are viable options for sustainable large-scale hydrogen production when applied in tandem with carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions goals on a lifecycle basis.

SSAE is supporting the Hydrogen Shot by evaluating potential technology and market pathway scenarios to meet the initiative’s H2 production cost target while minimizing greenhouse gas emissions. Both natural gas and waste coal primary feedstocks are being evaluated, along with biofuel feedstock blending. Advancements to commercial (e.g. steam methane reforming, autothermal reforming and gasification) and developing technologies, feedstock and unit siting choices, marketability of byproducts and finance assumptions are all under consideration.

The competing variable renewable energy-low temperature electrolysis (VRE-LTE) hydrogen production route is also being examined, with emphasis on its cost reduction potential for comparison. 

“We’re looking at every possible angle to achieve the targeted hydrogen production cost while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. For example, when looking at natural gas-based hydrogen production, beyond process technology development we’re also examining the feasibility of building units near gas wells to lower overall production costs and limit lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions by minimizing upstream methane emissions associated with production and transportation,” explained Robert Stevens, an SSAE researcher.

He continued, “All of the SSAE competencies are engaged in how to achieve the Hydrogen Shot targets from different angles. The Lifecycle Analysis team is evaluating the environmental and social attributes of energy systems on a cradle-to-gate basis while our Energy Markets Analysis team examines the economic side, such as project financing, labor rates, feedstock pricing, and anticipated market performance. The Process Systems Engineering team focuses on process intensification and optimization. The Subsurface team addresses the process and unit location-dependent CO2 transport and storage costs. We’re marrying all these disciplines together to define promising R&D and deployment scenarios.”

NETL is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory that drives innovation and delivers technological solutions for an environmentally sustainable and prosperous energy future. By leveraging its world-class talent and research facilities, NETL is ensuring affordable, abundant and reliable energy that drives a robust economy and national security, while developing technologies to manage carbon across the full life cycle, enabling environmental sustainability for all Americans.