Publication | BRG

Economic Crossroads

Lieza Wilcox and Yury Issaev

November 11, 2021

Establishing a hydrogen transportation network for long-distance transport in the western US

Hydrogen is expected to occupy an increasing share of the overall energy mix on the path toward decarbonization. It is a key alternative to diesel in the hard-to-abate sector of long-distance trucking. In any new fuel adoption effort, the interaction of demand, availability, and cost of fuel supply plays a critical role in the speed of adoption. Heavy-duty truck manufacturers are competing to produce the next generation of vehicles using hydrogen fuel cells, with plans for broad rollout in the mid-2020s. To speed the adoption of these vehicles, the fueling infrastructure needs to keep pace.

One option for reducing the delivered cost of hydrogen is to take advantage of the synergies between existing natural gas pipelines and major interstate and intrastate highways that the trucks already use. The key obstacle to using hydrogen widely as a fuel is the lack of a nationwide hydrogen delivery infrastructure. To optimize the costs of production and delivery of hydrogen, the locations of the fuel stops should be chosen to minimize the cost of the fuel to get there and provide for sufficient opportunities to refuel along major routes. Southern California Gas Company and San Diego Gas & Electric have launched a series of pilot programs in collaboration with universities to assess the technical feasibility of blending hydrogen with natural gas in existing pipelines. These programs should inform “how to safely incorporate hydrogen, a zero-emission fuel, into the gas grid,” which is viewed as “the first step toward the establishment of a statewide hydrogen injection standard.” The resulting technical considerations should impact economics of hydrogen development using the existing pipeline system.

In this paper, Lieza Wilcox and Yury Issaev consider interconnections of existing infrastructure in the western United States, in which hydrogen fuel-freight corridors (or “hydrogen corridors”) might evolve as a first step in laying out the strategic hydrogen fuel map of North America. We focused on the western US because of lower infrastructure density and the presence of clearly identifiable long-haul transportation routes. However, expanding this analysis to include the rest of the US would be a logical next step in our analysis. The infrastructure-led approach is based on the US Department of Energy’s assessment that existing pipeline infrastructure could provide a “low-cost option for delivering large volumes of hydrogen” and the possibility of blending hydrogen with the gas stream. For these purposes, we set out to:

  • Identify locations of gas pipelines along major freight routes in the western US
  • Delineate hydrogen corridors that could underpin hydrogen refilling infrastructure, based on expected freight traffic and proximity to existing gas pipelines
  • Highlight stretches of highways adjacent to pipelines with the same ownership structure that could expedite hydrogen pilot projects and access related commercial negotiations

This effort is an initial step in an infrastructure planning and design effort in which BRG’s commercial and technical energy expertise can support those looking to optimize the delivery of hydrogen fuel to the transportation and shipping market.

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