The Times-Independent

Greener natural gas? A hydrogen maker unveiled in Delta could make it so

In a test, 1,800 customers will get 5% “green” hydrogen mixed in their natural gas.



This story is part of The Salt Lake Tribune’s ongoing commitment to identify solutions to Utah’s biggest challenges through the work of the Innovation Lab.

ndrew Hegewald gives a tour of Dominion Energy’s regulator station in Delta on Thursday, Oct. 5, 2023. At the station an electrolyzer will use solar energy to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, meaning it is a pollution-free source of hydrogen fuel.
Photos by Trent Nelson/The Salt Lake Tribune

Dominion Energy, Utah’s largest supplier of natural gas, is trying to blend its way to the future.

In November, Dominion will start up a Swedish-built electrolyzer in Delta that makes hydrogen from water. The hydrogen will then be blended into the natural gas that goes to 1,800 customers in Delta and surrounding communities.

“This is industry leading,” said Dominion Energy Utah CEO Judd Cook Thursday at a ribbon cutting for the company’s new electrolyzer facility, which sits just off U.S. 6 on the northeast side of Delta.

Cook said the plan was conceived about five years ago, and while other gas utilities are now trying the same thing, Dominion had to figure it out from scratch. After the decision was made to try a hydrogen blend, “I didn’t even know who to call,” Judd said.

The company actually started blending in 5% hydrogen for those customers back in April, but it was using “gray” hydrogen, which is made from natural gas and generates greenhouse gases in the process. The electrolyzer will use electricity from renewable sources.

Andrew Hegewald, gas business development manager at Dominion, said when the electrolyzer is turned on next month, it will split about 42 kilograms (about 11 gallons) of water molecules per day to generate enough hydrogen for those 1,800 customers. The electrolyzer can ramp up and down so that it’s always adding 5% regardless of how much gas is getting consumed. (The oxygen produced when the water is split is vented to the atmosphere.)

Hegewald said the hydrogen will cost about seven to eight times more than the gas it is replacing, but since this is a test those costs will be absorbed by the company. No one’s gas rates are changing.

Delta Mayor John Niles said he got “some nasty emails” when the plan was first announced because people thought it might hurt their appliances. But after some community meetings, most of the concerns have died down. “I haven’t heard anything negative about this now.”

“Hydrogen is a thing in Utah,” said Harry Hansen, deputy director of the Utah Office of Energy Development.

Hansen pointed out that Utah has joined Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico in bidding for a federal “hydrogen hub.” Congress has allocated $8 billion to create a handful of hubs to stimulate development of hydrogen as a clean energy path.

And Dominion’s project in Delta is part of the hub bid. Hansen said if the bid is successful, federal funds will go to the next phase of the project.

Hegewald said that next phase will involve putting the blend in bigger pipes at pressures 10 times higher than what comes to individual households. At higher pressures, hydrogen can compromise steel pipes.

Judd Cook speaks at a ribbon-cutting ceremony to open Dominion Energy’s regulator station in Delta on Thursday, Oct. 5, 2023. At the station an electrolyzer will use solar energy to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, meaning it is a pollution-free source of hydrogen The hydrogen will cost about seven to eight times more than the gas it is replacing, but since this is a test among Delta customers those costs will be absorbed by the company. No one’s gas rates are changing

Dominion, which has pledged to be carbon free by 2050, could eventually go to a higher concentration of hydrogen across its whole system, but it’s not committing to that at this point. Higher concentrations would require new pipes and modifications to appliances and furnaces.

The company serves almost 90% of Utah. No state has a bigger percentage using natural gas.

Delta was chosen for a couple of reasons, Hegewald said. First is that it’s a relatively new part of Dominion’s Utah system, having been installed in the 1980s, so the pipes are more modern. The other reason was that Delta is at the end of a service line so it was easier to isolate for the test.

The American Medical Association and Physicians for Social Responsibility have cautioned against blending hydrogen and natural gas over health and safety concerns. Dominion maintains its testing has shown no health or safety risk with a 5% blend.