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Transporting Hydrogen in Natural Gas Pipelines

by , , | Nov 30, 2021 | Sustainability, Sustainable Energy, Valves, Actuators & Regulators

Mari Clerc

Mari Clerc

Content Specialist

Hydrogen blended with Natural Gas for transportWith the hydrogen demand growing globally, some challenges are arising across the supply chain to move it from production to consumption.

One opportunity is blending a percentage hydrogen into the existing pipeline infrastructure.

Rossella Mimmi and Attilio Lepore address the challenges of blending hydrogen into the existing pipelines such as leakage and embrittlement.

To learn more about the challenges and opportunities, connect with team of hydrogen experts, or with Rossella and Attilio in LinkedIn, and/or the Sustainability and Automation hub on Emerson.com.


Jim: Hi everyone, this is Jim Cahill with another “Emerson Automation Experts” podcast. As hydrogen grows as an energy carrier in the total energy mix, challenges exist across the supply chain to move it from production to consumption. Today, I’m joined by Rossella Mimmi and Attilio Lepore to discuss the challenges and solutions with transporting hydrogen by blending it with natural gas and sending it through the existing pipeline infrastructure. Welcome, Rossella and Attilio.

Rossella: Thank you, Jim. Welcome too, to Attilio, and everybody.

Attilio: Thank you. Hi, everyone.

Jim: Well, it’s so great to have you all the way from Italy joining us here virtually. Well, let’s get started. Can you tell us about your Emerson journey and how hydrogen, as part of Emerson sustainability initiative, became part of your role? Rossella, let’s start with you.

Rossella: Okay, thank you. So I’m Rossella Mimmi, I’m based in Italy. I joined Emerson a long time ago in 2001. And my first role was skid engineering. And then I covered different roles in the natural gas industry, for example, in marketing and business development. But since July, following a little bit, the fork that Emerson now have on green energies and the transition to Net Zero, I took a role that is new for us, and its sustainability and renewable energies for pressure management. Of course, in this role, we don’t deal anymore only with natural gas, but different sources of energy, like biomethane, for example, and especially hydrogen.

Jim: That’s great background through that way there. Now, Attilio, tell us about yourself.

Attilio: Yeah. Hi, everyone. I am Attilio Lepore and I joined Emerson in 2009 as a skid engineer, moving then to sales responsibilities in Europe. Recently, I took the lead of sales for pressure management in Italy, together with the leadership of the hydrogen initiative for Emerson Italy. In this role, I’m working closely with Rossella, and we work together in Italy, but also in Europe-wide projects to deliver to our customer solution, support, and the guidance for the new development of hydrogen solutions.

Jim: Well, thank you for that background and what you’re doing now. Now, I know one of the big challenges in the hydrogen supply chain is the transportation of it after it’s produced. So Attilio, what are some solutions that address this challenge?

Attilio: Yeah, the transportation of hydrogen, it’s actually a challenge. We may have several solutions, we can go to the solid state, accumulation system rather than old fashioned rationalized stock, etc. But the blending in the natural gas network seems to be the quickest solution, the most radiant solution, allow me to say, to be used. We have a buffer almost infinite in which we can inject hydrogen to be used everywhere, especially in some countries or regions in which the network is well developed.

Rossella: Yes, I would like to add that there are still some challenges in this opportunity, for example, the standardization is still missing. So we don’t actually have in this moment, the requirements for hydrogen to be blended into the natural gas network. Leakage pipeline and equipment is for sure an issue because of this small molecule of hydrogen.

And also embrittlement caused by hydrogen can be an issue also small quantities of hydrogen can cause embrittlement in the metallic parts, when we have increasing pressures. So for sure, additional activities for monitoring and maintenance will be needed. The Wobbe Index is different. And this of course, will have an impact on meters and burners and the calorific value of hydrogen is smaller than natural gas is more or less 1/3. So, the blending of hydrogen with natural gas will lower the calorific value of the mixing.

Attilio: Yeah, so, these are challenges that we have when using the natural gas stream as a means to transport and use hydrogen. But consider that we are working on that, there are several pilot projects and we are part of them in which we are studying technical solution for the injection of the hydrogen, the control and the measurement in the analysis of the blend that will be generated.

And we are also studying which we could be the best ratio to be injected, and how to manage it. So, we are already going, let’s say further and yeah, Rossella said there is not properly a specific legislation and standardization. And this is why sometimes a trusted adviser and a leading company like us could be also the mentor for the ones that are starting to go in this direction.

Jim: Well, that’s interesting, some of those challenges, yeah, the reactivity of hydrogen and causing embrittlement of the pipelines, and then that amount that can be injected. So, Rossella, tell us how the injection of certain percentages of green hydrogen into the natural gas grid can help achieve the goal of zero emissions by 2050. And maybe you could tell us about the difficulty of ensuring accurate injection of hydrogen, you know, the compatible equipment required, things like that.

Rossella: Well, burning of natural gas for heating or other uses, for sure contributes to the emissions of greenhouse gases. So, the decarbonization of the grid, that means the reduction of carbon current content…sorry, of the gas, is one option, we have to reduce these emissions and achieve the objective given by the European Green Deal. Europe has this ambitious goal to become the first climate neutral continent, so to have really zero emission by 2050. And for sure, decarbonization of the grid is one tool, the injection of a certain percentage of green hydrogen into the grid, can help achieve this goal, because burning hydrogen does not produce any carbon emissions.

Attilio: Yeah, consider that even a 10% of hydrogen into the natural gas grid would bring a huge benefit in terms of decarbonization. As an example in the European inland, the consumption of natural gas in 2019 was 16 million terajoules. So you do the math, and you can understand how much even a 10% can do in terms of reduction of carbonization.

Rossella: Of course, as you mentioned, Jim, there are difficulties but luckily, we can rely also on huge Emerson portfolio of products and solution. So many business units already have bigger experience with hydrogen. So we are covered, let’s say for the equipment that we need for the measurement, the pressure control, and the analysis of hydrogen. Of course, the complete solution, including the piping, the valves, so really a complete skid, this is still a gray area, as we said there’s not even a standard or legislation to help us. So, we are going to work with our customers, we are going to use our experience with natural gas, our expertise and together with our customers, we are trying to develop a solution that will ensure an accurate injection and blending of hydrogen in the natural gas network.

Jim: So I guess, Attilio, you know with the technologies that we can help with, how will this affect the hydrogen injection stations and what is the effect of that?

Attilio: Yeah, for sure, the hydrogen injection station will be the brain of the network, considering that they will have the task, the role to inject the precise quantity of hydrogen into the network, to measure and analyze the gas quality, the blend quality, and ensure that we have the right amount of hydrogen. It’s important. Like, as we said, at the moment, we are calculating that 10% is the percentage which will bring no damage and no harm to the legacy network. But we are not talking only about the network, we are talking also about the appliances that we have, so boilers, etc. So it’s very important to give a precise ratio and to dose efficiently the hydrogen.

Rossella: Yes, I just would like to add that really we are using the most advanced technologies for this type of station. So this station will really become an advanced and important part of the network of tomorrow.

Jim: Well, yeah, it does sound like it’s pretty critical to control that ratio to not get into some of the challenges you described earlier about what effect it can have on infrastructure equipment. So Attilio, what impact will this have on operations? What’s the importance of this blending specifically with hydrogen?

Attilio: Yeah, in terms of the operation and how we will change the operation, I mean, we have the possibility to redevelop the gas network. Most of Europe gas network was something developed at the end of the 18th century. And now we have the possibility finally to inject new ideas, new technologies into this older network that is the backbone of the continent but also most of the day, there were barriers.

So we are to re-think also the way of operation following the megatrends that we are seeing in these years, so the digitalization, the transition to Net Zero, of course, and the possibility to have a Digital Twin working. In this perspective, we, as Emerson, have a unique possibility to put ourselves in first place, in this new development, in this new, let’s say, metallization, or hydrogen-ization of the network.

Rossella: And about the importance of blending, just add that hydrogen, first of all, is the most common molecule in our universe. And considering green hydrogen, so the production of green hydrogen comes from electrolysis of water, using renewable energies, like wind and solar, and so we don’t have any carbon footprint. And also, when we burn green hydrogen, we don’t have any emissions. So the whole chain of green hydrogen really has zero emissions.

So once we will solve the issues that we already described, and also when green hydrogen will become cost effective compared to the traditional fossil fuels, we cannot forget that now we are talking about the cost that is more or less five times the natural gas, but the new technologies are making this gap smaller and smaller. Once these issues will be solved, the potential of hydrogen will be really immense.

Jim: Yeah, that does sound, green hydrogen basically taking it from a renewable source and converting it into hydrogen that can be used as an energy carrier with no carbon anywhere and that transition between it. So there’s a lot of promise there. We mentioned a bit about the technologies. And I guess, Attilio, what are some ways that Emerson can help operators face these challenges? And I guess not just with technologies, but other things we can do?

Attilio: Yeah, besides the sole technology, we are rather focusing on selling or better developing the solution, starting from our customers, our partners, let’s say, investment or trends or besides, I would say. So I’m concerned that at the moment, we are in a phase in which the major DSOs [distribution system operators] and TSOs [transmission system operators] are studying which would be the impact of hydrogen blending in their network. So, first of all, we need to establish a way to study, to experiment, to test this blending network. And when I talk about network as I said before, we are talking from the transportation down to the end user, so to the households.

So, what we are developing now together with them, it’s a complete solution that we use, of course, Emerson technology, but also our capability to make analysis and to develop the solution and integrate the solution to build some test station, test station that will give the customer the possibility to control every moment, the system to measure, analyze, control the pressure and be able also to do that in complete safety. We are doing that in Italy in a big DSO of Italy is developing and experimenting in a small branch of its network involving a small village of 100 houses.

The system that will control the injection of the hydrogen in this small network will be supplied by us. And it’s an Emerson integrated solution. But rather than the single piece of technology, which are anyway state of the art, it’s the added value that we were able to deliver to them, was the integration and the capability to conceive something that may anticipate the standard and the laws that at the moment we don’t have. So, Rosella maybe has a wider portfolio of experience, because she’s working Europe wide. So maybe she’s experiencing also some other test or some other experiment.

Rossella: Yes, so we hope we will start soon a very similar experiment in France with the medium pressure network. So not low pressure, but in this case, medium pressure around 25 bar [363 psi]. We are already speaking with many other customers in Spain, Lithuania, in Greece, everybody is really very interested in this. Not all countries are at the same level, let’s say, so not everybody started already this pilot project. But as Attilio mentioned, it’s also important to be partner of our customers in this initial phase, showing the short experience we may have.

And I would add another interesting experiment we will do in the Netherlands in a couple of projects with odorant injection, because we only mentioned up to now the injection station and the blending. But there’s also a big question mark related to the realization of this blending, so how this blend of hydrogen and natural gas will react to the traditional odorant liquids. So, yeah, we are trying to participate to this experiment with the increasing level of hydrogen, increasing content, sorry, but of hydrogen in the network from 10% to 100%. So pure hydrogen and see how a traditional odorant injection system will behave. So in case also, we’ll need to change something in the system to make it hydrogen ready. But it’s necessary to have this type of test, field tests, to learn something.

Attilio: Yeah, let’s say that we are pioneering together with our partners. And as usual, in this kind of new development, first comes the pioneer phase, and then we will have standards etc. But it’s important that at the moment, we can be the trusted adviser to go through in case we need to develop a new solution.

Jim: Yeah, I guess where we’re at, that we’re so early in the lifecycle, it is a lot of this pioneering or pilots to test it out and make it work. As we look at these skids around blending and injection, what specifically are some of the Emerson technologies and brands that are part of these, you know, integrated skids?

Rossella: Yeah, I can start. Attilio, maybe you can add something. But for sure, the solution we include in these skids are the gas chromatograph. So, for the gas analysis check of the purity of hydrogen in case of injection of hydrogen and the composition of the blending, so in order to understand how much hydrogen is really there. So we need the gas chromatograph in several applications. We have Coriolis meters to measure the quantity of hydrogen that is injected. So we are using this proven technology for this application. We are foreseeing Fisher control valves because, you know, they have to be in connection with the gas chromatograph to change to modify the quantity of hydrogen that is injected.

So the gas chromatograph can say, “Okay, you need to inject a little more, a little less,” or maybe the customer wants to start really to increase the percentage growing from 10% to 20%. So control valves have this role. We see TESCOM regulator in case the hydrogen comes in bottle for example, in this case, the initial pressure is very high, we’re talking about 200, 250 Bar. So, our legacy products are not suitable and so, we use a TESCOM regulator. We are talking about the control system, so PLC and in general, a complete system to control the logic of these types of station. And of course, ratio regulators, that is our core business not only from Tartarini, an Italian brand, but also from Fisher that have also huge experience with hydrogen for many, many years.

Attilio: Yeah, if I may add, we have also of course, the capability to design and produce the piping to connect all this technology. So, this is why we talk about integrated solution. And another important let’s say aspect to be highlighted is a corrosion analysis. We can as Emerson supply also, the corrosion analysis sensor that may be used, especially in the next year studies on the corrosion and the aging caused by the hydrogen. So, there is a complete range of solution to be used both for the utilization but also for the analysis and for the studies. And we are working also with some research distributor to create some lab to study the effect of hydrogen in the network, the effect of hydrogen in the materials. So we are also writing the standards of tomorrow.

Rossella: And also risk analysis of the station, these will be mandatory. Okay, the legislation is not there, but what we hear from the teams that are preparing the legislation, risk analysis will be mandatory for each one of the stations. So the university is helping us also on this aspect.

Jim: Well, that’s great, talking about, you know, what’s needed to control the process to make sure the blending and injection is right and doing corrosion monitoring, especially given hydrogen being as reactive as it is and working with the universities on what else to help manage the risk of doing that. So it sounds like there’s a whole lot going on that’s really exciting as this goes. And it just seems hydrogen as an energy carrier and the whole thing, it’s going to continue to grow and grow since it is non-carbon related. So I guess to wrap things up, Rossella, where can our listeners go to learn more about technologies and solutions in hydrogen pipeline distribution?

Rossella: Well, I would suggest that to check our webpage [see links above], because we are updating it in a continuous way to include all these new products and solutions we have. We are also working and developing some collateral for this new opportunity, hydrogen injection and blending. So this is my suggestion to check what’s going to be ready soon.

Jim: Okay, great. And if there was something that sparked our listeners, and they want to reach out and connect to ask you or Attilio a specific question, how can they get a hold of you?

Rossella: We are just both on LinkedIn. So if you check me you will find me at linkedin.com/in/rossellamimmi. So it’s very easy to find me. I have a kind of unique last name also for Italy. We are not many Mimmi.

Attilio: Yeah, mine is a little bit more common, but not so much. But anyway, we are on LinkedIn. So connect with us and please ask us whatever you want, and let’s get in touch.

Jim: And I will include links when we publish this out in the blog post, so our listeners can follow the links there. Well, I hope our listeners learned as much as I did today. Rossella and Attilio, I want to thank you so much for joining us today.

Attilio: Thanks to you.

Rossella: Thank you for the opportunity. As you see, it’s all very exciting and we are very happy to talk about this.

-End of transcript-

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