Sandia finds shared opportunities for natural gas, hydrogen fuel cell markets

Joint workshop deals with new ways of developing both fuels in tandem

Fueling stations that offer both hydrogen and natural gas could benefit distributors of both fuel types, according to a new report by Sandia National Laboratories.

The report, from a workshop last fall supported by the Department of Energy's Vehicle Technologies and Fuel Cell Technologies offices, considered common opportunities and challenges in expanding the use of hydrogen and natural gas as transportation fuels.

Organized by Sandia, the American Gas Association and Toyota Motor Corp., the workshop included participants from the auto industry, freight delivery fleets, gas suppliers, gas storage developers, utilities, academia, industry associations, national laboratories and federal and state governments.

"Although natural gas and hydrogen have an obvious intersection, natural gas is the feedstock for 95% of hydrogen produced in the U.S.," said Dawn Manley, deputy director of chemical sciences at Sandia.

"This workshop was the first to actively probe synergies, competition and new ways of developing both fuels in tandem," Manley added.

Participants identified fueling stations as one area where companies can better capitalize on synergies between the two fuels. Station operators could cater to both types of users, as natural gas and hydrogen fuels generally compete for different market segments (natural gas for fleets and hydrogen for consumers).

Similarly, the report found that if companies shift away from separate approaches and toward using common equipment, similar pressures and the same manufacturing processes, they could enable economies of scale for storage equipment and handling. Common equipment could further improve the business case for co-locating infrastructure, driving down costs and expanding the market for both fuels.

Expanding markets are creating opportunities for new players and partnerships in transportation fuels, workshop participants said. They added that multiple generations of vehicle and fueling infrastructure will coexist and are likely to suit different niches.

The Sandia report noted that while the growth of alternative fuels will be unpredictable, early station development can provide valuable lessons for long-term expansion.

Howevere, thorough system requirements and cost assessments are needed to quantify the benefits of co-developing natural gas and hydrogen. Different policies may be more effective for different fuels.

For example, aggressive deployment programs for natural gas vehicles have stimulated the development of complementary, unsubsidized fueling infrastructure. In contrast, zero-emission vehicle mandates and public investment in early hydrogen infrastructure have motivated automakers to produce hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

The Sandia report is entitled: "Transitioning the Transportation Sector: Exploring the Intersection of Hydrogen Fuel Cell and Natural Gas Vehicles."

It is available on the DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy's Vehicle Technologies and Fuel Cell Technologies offices' websites.

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