Air Board Crafting Renewable Hydrogen Fuel Standards

By Published On: November 16, 2007

Hydrogen used as a transportation fuel in California would have to cut emissions on a life cycle basis, compared to gasoline. It also must be produced using 33.3 percent renewable energy under standards being developed by air quality regulators. Next spring, the California Air Resources Board plans to adopt environmental standards for hydrogen fuel production in preparation for what it hopes will be eventual commercialization of hydrogen-fueled vehicles. “It may not be possible to do direct conversion,” explained Leslie Goodbody, Air Board engineer. Accordingly, the proposed standards discussed at a November 14 workshop would allow hydrogen producers to add renewable energy facilities in remote locations to feed enough power to the grid to make hydrogen in urban areas. She also said that the agency may allow a renewable hydrogen trading market. Under the scenario, producers unable to meet the 33.3 percent renewable energy input requirement could purchase credits from producers that use a higher percentage of renewable energy to make the gas. Hydrogen for use as a fuel either has to be “reformed” from natural gas feedstock, or made with electrolysis–the latter using electricity to break down water molecules. The latter process is where renewable energy could be used. With the Air Board’s proposal, producing hydrogen through electrolysis would be the gold standard because solar panels, wind turbines, and other renewable technologies could be used as a power source to split water into oxygen and hydrogen. Currently, most hydrogen is made by reforming natural gas. That process emits both smog-forming pollutants and greenhouse gases. Hydrogen can be used as a vehicle fuel either by burning it in an internal combustion engine or by using it to make electricity to power a motor with a fuel cell. On a life-cycle, or “well-to-wheels” basis, hydrogen would have to cut emissions of smog-forming nitrogen oxides and reactive organic gases 50 percent compared to gasoline vehicles and greenhouse gases by 30 percent, said Ben Deal, Air Board engineer. The standards would apply only to new production and distribution facilities. The few existing hydrogen fuel facilities would be grandfathered unless they were upgraded. Companies operating production and distribution stations would have to file reports with the Air Board explaining how the hydrogen was produced and how much was sold. The proposed rule, planned for adoption on April 24, would implement SB 1505. That law ordered the Air Board to set standards for hydrogen transportation fuel.

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