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When hydrogen was blended into the turbine at 35 percent by volume, it reduced carbon dioxide emissions by about 14 percent, according to the results.

ALBANY, N.Y. — Burning hydrogen blended with natural gas at a peaker plant run by the New York Power Authority lowered carbon dioxide emissions and didn’t increase harmful co-pollutants that have been a concern for environmental justice groups, a new report found.

The pilot program was the first to combust hydrogen at an existing power plant, and the findings will help inform industry efforts to use “green hydrogen” to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. NYPA ran the pilot using a 47 megawatt General Electric turbine — similar to a jet engine — at its Brentwood plant on Long island.

“We did this for the benefit of the industry at this point in time when there's a lot of discussion around the use of hydrogen, what role it can play,” NYPA’s interim president and CEO Justin Driscoll said. “We're hopeful that people will benefit from the results of the study.”

The “peaker,” which typically runs only on the hottest or coldest days of the year when electricity demand peaks at its highest levels, is usually remotely operated. Personnel from a nearby NYPA plant were on site during the pilot, which involved new equipment to blend the hydrogen.

When hydrogen was blended into the turbine at 35 percent by volume, it reduced carbon dioxide emissions by about 14 percent, according to the results. The original parameters called for blending up to 35 percent — and ultimately hit about 44 percent.

NYPA collaborated with EPRI, the Electric Power Research Institute, on the project and also had support from GE. The pilot, first announced in July 2021, faced some delays due to supply chain challenges linked to the Covid-19 pandemic. Another factor that stretched out the testing was the limited availability of green hydrogen and transportation issues.

Six trucks carrying hydrogen had to travel between the supply point and the NYPA power plant in Suffolk County. The trucks made three trips, giving time between each round of testing to fine tune the experiment.

The hydrogen supplied by Airgas for the demonstration project was produced in Quebec with primarily Canadian hydropower. In all, the NYPA turbine ran on varying levels of hydrogen for 12.5 hours over two months.

“The supply of hydrogen is actually one of the challenges that we're going to be facing — that the industry is going to be facing as we move forward with changing the way we run our plants,” said NYPA’s Alan Ettlinger, senior director for research, technology development and innovation.

One major concern about combusting hydrogen is the potential for increased nitrogen oxide, or NOx, emissions. The co-pollutant emitted from burning fuels pose a danger to human health because of respiratory impacts.

NYPA’s pilot sought to determine the impacts of blending increasing levels of hydrogen on NOx and other emissions. The results could alleviate some concerns: while NOx increased at the exhaust from the gas turbine, the smokestack emissions of NOx could be kept within typical, permit compliant levels through water injection and existing emission controls.

“We were able to keep the NOx emissions within the state permit levels,” said Jeff Goldmeer, emergent technologies director at GE Gas Power. “I think that's a huge message to people who have an opinion that you can't do that. This is real facts with data.”

The continued emissions of NOx, however, means the combustion of green hydrogen at scale would still have negative health impacts. That’s likely to cause continued concern for environmental justice communities hosting the peaker plants.

Another result that’s poised for further study is the lower carbon monoxide emissions when hydrogen was burned. If so, this would mean the turbine could run at lower levels of output when on standby and quickly ramp up to full power since the carbon monoxide emissions are typically the limiting factor.

Neva Espinoza, vice president of energy supply and low-carbon resources for EPRI, said the addition of more and more intermittent renewables on the electric grid will require additional dispatchable resources.
“One of the key learnings out of this project is the additional flexibility that we were able to get out of this machine while we blend in hydrogen,” Espinoza said. This “may have broader implications to how these assets can potentially play a role in the energy system tomorrow when more flexibility will be needed.”

NYPA is not immediately pursuing any additional hydrogen combustion at its peaker plants, Driscoll said, although he did not rule it out in future. The authority is more focused on storage opportunities at its peaker plants in response to the results of an RFP issued in April, which Driscoll said may be paired with the offshore wind solicitation program being run by NYSERDA.

The authority is also participating in the multi-state effort to secure “hydrogen hub” funding from the federal government. Driscoll said NYPA could also get an electrolyzer to pilot production of hydrogen from its hydropower plants as the agency also continues to provide funding through economic development programs to hydrogen businesses.

“There's potential for us to do other testing with our facilities and so we wouldn't, certainly, wouldn't close the door on that,” Driscoll said.

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