LOS ANGELES, May 17, 2018 /PRNewswire/ -- Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas) today introduced an innovative new solar-powered hydrogen generation system during the California Air Resources Board Technology Expo and Symposium at the University of California, Riverside. The project is a partnership between SoCalGas, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) and the STARS Corporation. The generation system uses sunlight to convert natural gas and water into hydrogen and capture the carbon dioxide (CO2) to prevent carbon emissions.
Hydrogen has many applications, including powering vehicles and homes, but unlike methane, it is not typically found on its own in nature so researchers have developed ways to produce it from other compounds. SoCalGas supports efforts to increase hydrogen production, particularly for use along "California's Hydrogen Highway," a series of hydrogen-fueling stations throughout the state. Currently there are 35 hydrogen fueling stations in the state, with another 29 stations in development. Increasing this fueling infrastructure could help speed the deployment of zero emission hydrogen fuel cell vehicles which play a significant role in reducing California's greenhouse gas and smog emissions, according to the California Air Resources Board.
The solar thermochemical advanced reactor system (STARS) produces hydrogen through a thermochemical process where the sun provides thermal energy to break down natural gas and water into hydrogen and carbon dioxide in a process called steam methane reforming. Results from extensive testing show STARS can be configured to produce hydrogen and other chemicals without any carbon emissions reaching the atmosphere. These chemicals "trap" and use the carbon that would otherwise be emitted. The carbon then can be used to make chemicals that become resins and plastic materials.
For example, a separate SoCalGas research and development project is studying a unique use for carbon captured during hydrogen production, so-called carbon nanotubes (CNTs). CNTs have tensile strength and stiffness many times that of carbon fiber and are typically used in high-tech manufacturing.
"We are always looking for innovative ways natural gas can be used to develop clean energy sources," said Yuri Freedman, senior director of business development for SoCalGas. "Hydrogen is well positioned to play a vital role in California's clean energy future through a broad range of applications, including the expanded use of fuel cells, long-term energy storage and other purposes."
"STARS Corporation is a new, spin-off corporation, created for the purpose of commercializing this nascent technology," said Robert Wegeng, a former technology developer at PNNL and the president of STARS Corporation. "We hope to have a commercial demonstration operating in one to two years."
This technology is undergoing field testing at San Diego State University's Brawley campus where it runs on solar and renewable electricity. Demonstrations have shown the set-up is extremely efficient, with an energy-to-chemical energy conversion efficiency above 70 percent, making it one of the world's most efficient solar processes. Currently the system produces about 25 kg of hydrogen per day if operated around the clock using a combination of solar energy and renewable gas or electricity. This is the equivalent of 25 gallons of gasoline or diesel fuel. Research suggests the system could produce 100 kg of hydrogen per day with a more advanced design.
The STARS generation system has been in development by PNNL and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for more than 10 years. SoCalGas is working with the DOE to make these systems commercially viable.
Headquartered in Los Angeles, SoCalGas® is the largest natural gas distribution utility in the United States, providing clean, safe, affordable and reliable natural gas service to 21.7 million customers in Central and Southern California. Its service territory spans 22,000 square miles from Fresno to the Mexican border, reaching more than 550 communities through 5.9 million meters and 101,000 miles of pipeline. More than 90 percent of Southern California single-family home residents use natural gas for home heat and hot water. In addition, natural gas plays a key role in providing electricity to Californians—about 60 percent of electric power generated in the state comes from gas-fired power plants.
SoCalGas has served communities in California for 150 years and is committed to being a leader in the region's clean energy future. The company is working to accelerate the use of renewable natural gas, a carbon-neutral or carbon-negative fuel created by capturing and conditioning greenhouse gas emissions from farms, landfills and wastewater treatment plants. SoCalGas is a subsidiary of Sempra Energy (NYSE: SRE), a Fortune 500 energy services holding company based in San Diego. For more information visit socalgas.com/newsroom or connect with SoCalGas on Twitter (@SoCalGas), Instagram (@SoCalGas) and Facebook.
SOURCE Southern California Gas Company