This week’s Pipeliners Podcast episode features Mike Longo of Anax Power to discuss using turboexpanders to generate carbon-free power from natural gas.
In this episode, you will learn about turboexpanders and why they are used, how the energy gained from the turboexpanders is stored and used, and how electrolyzers can help the industry begin slowly adding in clean hydrogen in a cost effective way.
Turbo Expander Show Notes, Links, and Insider Terms:
- Michael Longo is the Head of Business Development at Anax Power, where he coordinates the sales, marketing, and operations activities of the business on a daily basis. Connect with Michael on LinkedIn.
- Anax Power generates carbon free power from the pressure differential of natural gas moving through transmission and distribution pipelines. Most natural gas customers cannot use natural gas at the pressure that it moves through the pipeline, so regulator stations must reduce it to an acceptable amount. This pressure-reduction process is extremely inefficient and substantially reduces the gas’ potential energy. The 500kW Anax Turboexpander (ATE) harnesses this wasted energy embedded throughout our natural gas supply infrastructure to generate clean, cost-effective, renewable energy and unlock gigawatts of electricity across the globe.
- AGA (American Gas Association) represents companies delivering natural gas safely, reliably, and in an environmentally responsible way to help improve the quality of life for their customers every day. AGA’s mission is to provide clear value to its membership and serve as the indispensable, leading voice and facilitator on its behalf in promoting the safe, reliable, and efficient delivery of natural gas to homes and businesses across the nation.
- The annual AGA Operations Conference is the natural gas industry’s largest gathering of natural gas utility and transmission company operations management from across North America and the world. During the conference, participants share technical knowledge, ideas, and practices to promote the safe, reliable, and cost-effective delivery of natural gas to the end-user.
- LDC is a Local Distribution Company, or a utility that owns/operates its own natural gas pipeline network for the purpose of delivering gas to customers behind its system.
- Maximum Allowable Operating Pressure (MAOP) is a pressure limit set, usually by a government body, which applies to compressed gas pressure vessels, pipelines, and storage tanks.
- Turboexpander also referred to as expansion turbines, provide a way to capture the energy lost in natural gas facilities and refineries
- KW is a measure of how much power an electric appliance consumes
- IoT (Internet of Things) is a system of interrelated computing devices, mechanical and digital machines, objects, animals or people that are provided with unique identifiers and the ability to transfer data over a network without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction.
- Hydrogen electrolyser is an apparatus that produces hydrogen through a chemical process (electrolysis) capable of separating the hydrogen and oxygen molecules of which water is composed using electricity.
- The Inflation Reduction Act makes urgent investments to lower prescription drug costs, health care costs, and energy costs to create opportunities for America’s 33 million small businesses and innovative startups. It is the most aggressive action we have taken to confront the climate crisis
- O&M (Operations & Maintenance) is a comprehensive approach to performing pipeline tasks related to the operation and maintenance of gas and liquid pipeline systems. A robust O&M program provides personnel with the knowledge and understanding of each situation to enable them to correctly assess the situation and take corrective action.
Turbo Expander Full Episode Transcript:
Russel Treat: Welcome to the “Pipeliners Podcast,” Episode 254, sponsored by Gas Certification Institute, providing standard operating procedures, training, and software tools for custody transfer measurement and field operations professionals. Find out more about GCI at gascertification.com.
Announcer: The Pipeliners Podcast, where professionals, Bubba geeks, and industry insiders share their knowledge and experience about technology, projects, and pipeline operations. Now your host, Russel Treat.
Russel: Thanks for listening to the Pipeliners Podcast. I appreciate you taking the time, and to show that appreciation, we’re giving away a customized YETI tumbler to one listener every episode. This week, our winner is Troy Thompson with Navigator CO2 Ventures. Congratulations Troy, your YETI is on its way. To learn how you can win this prize, stick around till the end of the episode.
This week, Mike Longo with Anax Power joins to talk about using turbo expanders to generate carbon free power from natural gas. Mike, welcome to the Pipeliners Podcast.
Michael Longo: Thanks for having me, Russel.
Russel: Before we get going, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself, and your background, and how you found yourself working in pipelining?
Michael: Absolutely. I probably have a little bit of a different story versus other folks that you have on this podcast. Grew up in the Northeast, went to a small environmentally focused liberal arts college in Vermont, and then logically it led me to working in the natural gas pipeline space.
I started working in consulting, and then eventually started working on this company Anax Power. That’s obviously focused on the natural gas pipeline space, and we’ll get into more of what we actually do later in the interview.
Russel: I’ve heard a lot of stories because I always ask that question about how people find themselves. I will say yours is one of the more unique. You really wouldn’t expect somebody going to a Vermont environmental focused college to end up in pipelining, but we need all kinds, all backgrounds, all experiences.
Michael: Even when I started my professional career, and when I started working on Anax, I didn’t even know what methane was, if I’m being totally honest. It’s been a steep learning curve for sure.
Russel: I’m sure it has. I’m just going to tell the listeners a little bit about why I asked you to come on. Back in the Spring, I was at the AGA conference. I was having lunch. I sat next to a guy, and just, “Who are you? What do you do?” He started telling me about what he does.
I’m, “Say that again. What do you do?” [laughs] Which led to an exchange of business cards and the opportunity to get you guys on this podcast. Mike, I’ll just ask you the question. What do you do? [laughs]
Michael: [laughs] It’s a fun question to answer just to see, if nothing else, people’s reactions. What we do at Anax Power is we generate clean power from natural gas without any combustion. The way we do that is with technology called a natural gas turboexpander generator, which is a machine that you put on pipelines, and we use the pressure and the flow of the gas moving through the pipeline to spin a turbine and generate electricity.
To go one level of detail below that, we need to put this technology at pressure-regulating stations. Say, it’s where there’s a pressure cut already happening. We take advantage of that pressure cut. We use our machine in parallel with the existing pressure-regulating valve.
The concept I use to explain it to non-engineers is, “Think about wind power, how wind spins that wind turbine, shrink that down, put it in a pipeline. That’s more or less what we do.”
Russel: When I first heard the regenerate combustion free power from natural gas, that blew my head up because I’m, “What does that mean?” As we were prepping to get on the podcast and you started telling me what you’re doing, it’s basically, wherever there’s a pressure cut, you’re using that energy to generate power.
That makes a huge amount of sense. There are a ton of places. Every city gate, every place we’re taking gas off of the mainline and moving it into the distribution system, all those places where we’re doing it, with pressure cut, we have an opportunity to use that energy to generate power.
Have you looked at how many potential points of power generation that are in the US?
Michael: Thousands. There’s thousands and thousands of these locations all around North America, and, to be honest, globally.
You think about the natural gas pipeline system, it’s basically any natural gas power plant. It’s any delivery point into an LDC. It’s many interconnects, where you have to cut pressure for MAOP concerns. It’s any large industrial user of natural gas, from a steel plant to an oil refinery, to a fertilizer plant, and that really adds up. We’re not talking about 10 kW of power here.
Our unit is a 500 kW-rated unit, and in many locations, you can install multiple turbo expanders. You’re adding potentially several megawatts of capacity at tens of thousands of distributed energy generating locations, all around the country and the world.
Russel: For those of us that are not electrical engineers, how much is–
Michael: I’m one of those that’s not an electrical engineer, so I’m right there with you. [laughs]
Russel: Yeah, but I bet you’re familiar with these numbers. How much power is 500 kW?
Michael: That’s a good question.
Russel: What can you drive with that?
Michael: Let’s try and think about that because I struggle with this too, how to make 500 kW palatable to somebody that’s not familiar with electrical capacity. If you think about your electric bill, I have basically a three-bedroom townhouse in Wyoming, where everything is electrified. At any given point throughout that month, the max that we will be using will only be about 12 kW of power, the maximum.
Russel: 500 kW is enough to generate power for 40 homes.
Michael: And likely much more than that, because remember that 12 kW is going to be our peak usage. We’re probably averaging less than half of that.
Russel: That just gives you can have an idea of how much power you’re generating off of a single pressure cut. That’s pretty substantial.
Michael: It’s substantial. To give you, to frame it another way, most big power plants that you see the smokestacks for will be between 500 and 1000 megawatts. Some of the sites that we can generate power at, we’re installing maybe four turboexpanders, so that’s two megawatts. It’s one to two percent. It’s a percentage increase on one of those big generating plants that you see the smokestacks coming from.
The best part about it is, there are so many locations where you can do this, that you’re talking about basically generating a significant amount of power in a highly distributed way.
Russel: That’s a whole other conversation right there. Now you start getting into conversations about, “OK, so I’m generating this power. Where do I put it? How do I use it?” Putting that much power back on the grid is not trivial.
Michael: To be candid, dealing with the grid in any way is arduous, to say the least. It’s a highly regulated industry and for good reason, wherever you go. You’re talking about electrical infrastructure. It’s really, really complex. What that means is when we’re trying to do something with the electricity we’re generating, going to the grid could take years, just in delays.
You have to pay for regulatory studies, you have to pay for interconnection studies. It adds a whole bunch of costs. On top of that, because the grid is essentially a monopoly, you’re not getting a very good price for that power that you’re going to put onto the grid. We decided to come up with a different solution for how to use our power, and that is to use it in a variety of distributed computing applications.
That could be anything from running the Internet of Things for a company like Amazon processing power to mining Bitcoin, and that’s the computing side.
The other use for the power is something that’s gaining a ton of notoriety right now in the pipeline space is to actually pair our turboexpander with a hydrogen electrolyzer and use the power in electrolysis to create hydrogen that can be blended into the pipeline downstream.
That was the foundation of our presentation to the AGA where we met, Russel. There’s a whole bunch of benefits that we could talk about with regard to pairing the turboexpander with a hydrogen electrolyzer.
Russel: I want to spend a little time and unpack this. I think for the average pipeliner, if I’m a gas pipeline guy, I’m familiar with pressure cuts. I think I can pretty quickly get over the leap of, “If I’ve got a pressure cut and I want to take that energy and do something with it, I can pretty quickly get to, ‘I see how you could drive a turbine and have that turbine drive a generator.'”
That leap, to me, is easy to make, just conceptual. Certainly, I’m sure there’s a thousand questions about the details of all that. That’s a pretty easy leap to make. Then you got to all these questions about, “Now I have power. Where do I put it? What do I do with it?”
Then that starts becoming completely outside the experience, the business framework, the operations, mechanical framework, the safety framework, just all of a sudden, you’re in this whole new world. It’s, “If I can do that, great, but what am I going to do with the power?”
Russel: When we were talking before, I was asking a lot of questions about, “Could I put it back on the grid?” I think the answer to that is, “Yes, but there’s a lot of problems with it.” Our grid is not designed to have a lot of small power generation points feeding data back to the grid. It’s just not designed for that.
Michael: No. The nature of our technology and the nature of the pipeline system is a lot of these pressure-regulating stations that we’re talking about, the pressure cut is happening at locations that are not easy to access from the grid.
You’re talking about the middle of a field in Indiana or a big industrial site in Alberto where it’s not cheap to build electrical interconnections to these locations.
Russel: Even in this case of city gates, which are relatively close to the grid, and then often case, we actually have the grid coming in, they’re not coming in to support the power that that turboexpander could put out.
Michael: No. You need a transformer. You have to clear it with the local grid. You’re talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars and years of time spent getting a project like this up and running.
Russel: Yeah. That raises the question, “What do you do with the power?”
Where I went immediately is for those places where I have large facilities that have their large gas users, like fertilizer plants and anything with a burner tip, or power generation, or any of that, all of a sudden, “I could take that power and just feed it into the plant, make it part of my plant power. I reduce my cost of buying electricity off the grid.”
I would assume that it could have some pretty strong economics.
Michael: It does. That metering approach is a super attractive option, especially for a lot of these…again, going back to the fertilizer plant, they have huge electricity bills every month. A lot of times where they’re getting their power is not clean.
The value proposition for our technology is we say, “We can hook up, give you power behind the meter, reduce your electricity bills, and we’re going to improve your environmental footprint because this is sustainably sourced electricity.”
You add in the fact that sometimes these big companies hear the term distributed computing and they get a little bit fearful of what that entails, fear of the unknown. It pushes them towards wanting to go with this net metering approach. That’s not always feasible.
Russel: Yeah. I want to come back and talk about using the power to drive electrolyzers. That’s very interesting to me because most of the presentations I’ve seen about hydrogen electrolyzers are around fairly large projects behind wind farms.
The thing about those kinds of projects is they require a certain scale. Most of the commercially viable electrolyzers that are currently being manufactured are small, relatively. I’m curious, can I source standard off the shelf solutions for this?
This being a turboexpander or an electric generator, and an electrolyzer, and the way to take that hydrogen into the gas stream. How quickly can something like that be sourced, or do they all have to be custom designed and engineered?
Michael: Short answer is there’s a little bit of customization required. The electrolyzers exist for the sizes that we’re talking about. I do want to talk more about electrolyzers and hydrogen because I think it’s such an exciting component of these turbo expander systems.
Before we go there, is it OK if I just bring up one other…
Russel: Yeah, sure.
Michael: …fact about behind the meter use case we were talking about before? When you think about the feasibility of a turboexpander, one of the crucial inputs is you need to add heat to the system. Just as the gas going through a pressure-regulating valve is going to have temperature loss, and there’s typically heaters at these sites, the same thing happens with a turboexpander.
You need to maintain the temperature in that pipeline so you don’t freeze the pipes downstream. Now, the benefit of pairing this technology with a distributed computing system and, for that matter, a hydrogen electrolyzer is the distributed computing system and the electrolyzer throw off a ton of waste heat.
What we have the ability to do is we have the ability to capture that waste heat off of those distributed computers, or electrolyzer, and use that in the gas stream. We actually use that in place of these big, inefficient CO2 emitting natural gas burning heaters.
Now, instead of taking gas and using them in a heater in your transmission process, you’re taking waste heat and you’re going to be able to offset the CO2 emissions and the cost of natural gas associated with those heaters.
Because it’s a waste heat application, the Inflation Reduction Act will qualify this entire system for a 30 percent federal investment tax credit, potentially more.
Russel: That starts to become pretty compelling. I’m going to talk like I know about this, and I’m really getting over my skis a bit here, but I know a fair amount about city gates. I’ve built a lot of them. I’ve not actually commissioned any, but I’ve done a lot of the metering around city gates. I’m really familiar with how they work and so forth.
What you tend to find is there’s pretty standard skid sets for a particular flow rate and pressure cut. There’s going to be a little variability around them, but they’re pretty standard. They’re pseudo off-the-shelf is what I’m driving at.
I would think that you could do the same thing with this system and come up with a pseudo off-the-shelf solution where the metering, the pressure regulation, the turboexpander, the power generation, and the ancillary equipment are all part of a skid-fabricated system.
Michael: I want to avoid making this an Anax specific marketing pitch as much as I can and focus on the value of turboexpanders in general. What you just said is a key differentiator for us at Anax, because turboexpanders are pretty common. They’ve been around for almost 100 years in cryogenic plants, air separation plants. We’re not reinventing the wheel here with technology.
What we believe makes us different at Anax is that before we designed this technology, we spent years going out and sourcing real-life customer data, hundreds of thousands of data points on pressures, flows, temperatures from city gates, power plants, every type of pressure-regulating station you could ever imagine.
Using those hundreds of thousands of data points, we designed our technology. We designed it around real-life customer data, with the intention being to minimize custom engineering, one-time installation expenses in favor of this modular plug-and-play, off-the-shelf approach.
So that when we go to a site and we see what the gas conditions are, what the site looks like, what the city gate station looks like, instead of taking a year to custom build something, then installing it, and having all these problems come up, we take our off-the-shelf unit, adjust a couple of things for that specific site, and then we can hopefully be up and running without an exorbitant cost to the customer. Custom engineering equates to insurmountable cost recovery.
Russel: It equates to time and money.
Russel: Engineering equates to time and money.
Michael: They’re project killers.
Russel: In our world, the process you’re talking about is absolutely critical.
Michael: Yeah. It’s already been done with the pressure-regulating valves. Every significant pressure-regulating valve is on a skid that’s fabricated somewhere else.
Russel: The combination of the meter, and the valve, and the odorization and all of that, those are all skid systems. They’re well understood and they’re sized for different applications. It’s pretty easy to say, “Give me one of those.”
Michael: Yeah. 100 percent. That was exactly the same approach that we wanted to take. The other differentiator, which you alluded to earlier, is that we don’t have just a turboexpander on our skid. We have all the same safeties, valves, bypasses that are on your pressure regulating skid with the valve, are also on our turbo expander skid.
If you do some research on natural gas turboexpanders, you’ll see a lot of just the turboexpander, but you got to talk to any pipeline, they’ll never let you put just the turboexpander at their city gate.
Russel: A good shot. They’ve got a whole safety management process they have to go through to make sure that that thing will fail safe.
Michael: Right. We have every slam shut valve, monitor globe. Every valve you have on your skid, we have on our turboexpanders.
Russel: Interesting. Have you guys looked at…this is one of the things I’m curious about. I’ve been looking at hydrogen and trying to, I think like a lot of us, try to understand what that really means in practice. I’m hearing a lot of conversation about blending anywhere from 5 percent to maybe 20 percent. When you start getting over 20 percent, it starts becoming a real problem with the infrastructure.
Five to 10, maybe 10 is the sweet spot. Can you run enough electrolyzer to get that level of hydrogen into the stream? If you do, do you still have power leftover beyond that?
Michael: The short answer to that is we believe we can. We actually went down this road quite a bit with a major gas utility in the Northeast, where we did a full feasibility study, we sized the electrolyzer. The feedback we got, and the reason they really liked this type of system, this turboexpander electrolyzer system, is because it allowed them to start small.
We’re not talking about retrofitting a big coal plant to produce 500 megawatts of power so we can run a massive electrolyzer. We’re talking about a 500 kW to a one megawatt electrolyzer, which is going to give you a hydrogen blend of maybe one percent. It’s small. What they like about it is it gave them the opportunity to start to test the impact of hydrogen on their pipes.
Now, the beautiful thing about this is, like we talked about earlier, there’s thousands of these locations all over North America. You put it at one city gate station in this part of town, you put it in another city gate station in this part of town, and now you start increasing the hydrogen blend, one, two, three, four percent.
Again, it’s a tiered approach, which in today’s hydrogen pipeline infrastructure environment, and from everything we’ve heard, that’s probably a more reliable path to go down versus just injecting 40 percent, or something like that.
Russel: I think you’re not going to see anybody going above 50 percent any time soon.
Michael: I’m right there with you.
Russel: Just the nature of hydrogen, the nature of the molecule, and what it does to existing pipeline infrastructure. Smaller holes will leak…holes that won’t leak, methane will leak hydrogen.
Michael: [laughs] Yeah.
Russel: The atom is smaller. There’s that issue. The other issue is the hydrogen can actually get into the metal and embrittle it. Depending on the nature of the system you’re injecting into it, you’ve got some real consequences.
One of the things I see as a benefit is I could say, “You know what? I’ve got this system over here. It’s relatively new. I have it extremely well documented. I have a really good integrity measure plan. I know the materials. It’s appropriate for hydrogen. Let’s try hydrogen there.” Then I can start with one percent and start ramping it up. I can monitor and see what that does. I can check in with my customers. I can control the rollout of that.
To me, that’s pretty compelling, given what you guys are doing. If the transmission companies start blending in hydrogen, that’s a whole different problem.
Michael: What you’re talking about is exactly why a lot of our customers are so excited to work with us. I don’t know about you, but a lot of these conferences I go to, you have the executives on stage talking about hydrogen. You have these big plans for a hydrogen future, “We’re going to convert all of America’s natural gas pipelines to hydrogen.” It sounds great. It’s exciting.
When the rubber meets the road, and even when you get some of these executives offstage and you start asking them a little bit about it, it’s going to take a lot to get there, if ever. I want to be clear, I’m not a hydrogen expert by any means.
All of my perspective is just anecdotally talking to these executives and talking to our engineers. What we hear from them is that, “Look, we’re a long way off from this, if ever, we’re going to reach that state. It’s going to take small incremental steps to go from where we are today in 2022 to this grand hydrogen vision.”
Russel: The pipeline infrastructure by its nature is risky. Change, by its nature, in a critical infrastructure system, is risky. You got to mitigate that. You got to manage that. Yeah, I can have this big vision and throw it out and say in 25 years here’s where we’re going to be, and I can catch that vision, but somebody’s got to actually execute that thing.
It’s the difference between Columbus talking to the Queen of Spain about a new route to the East versus being a sailor on the ship, three months at sea, running out of food, having scurvy, and wondering if we’re ever going to see land again.
Michael: Yeah. As an Italian, I’m obligated to mention that Columbus was Italian even though he sailed from Spain. I had to get that in there, and my grandfather would be proud.
Russel: [laughs] My point just being that there’s the vision casting and there’s the doing. Both required, they’re both necessary, but they’re very different undertakings.
Michael: Russel, we’re just talking about technically speaking. There’s a whole can of worms that we haven’t even gotten to, which is the economic side of things, which in no way, shape, or form is producing hydrogen anywhere close to as cost effective as what it takes to get natural gas to people’s homes.
One of the big components of Anax’s value proposition of a turboexpander, electrolyzer value proposition, is, yes, it provides these incremental steps, but in our opinion, more importantly, it is, in our opinion again, the most cost-effective way to produce reliable, clean hydrogen.
Russel: The minute you take electricity off the grid and use it to generate hydrogen, that has a whole lot of unintended consequences. I’m not sure I would even be able to articulate them. You’re taking power off the market to generate hydrogen, which is a cleaner fuel, but it’s not as energy rich fuel.
When you start doing those things at scale, that starts causing difficulties in markets and such. With what you’re doing, it’s small, it’s incremental, and it’s a pure capital cost. Pretty much, you’re going to have some O&M on the turboexpander and so forth, but it’s…
Michael: With a 30 percent tax credit, too.
Russel: My point being that it’s a capital cost. There’s some O&M cost, but it’s primarily a capital cost. It’s not an ongoing buy cost. That’s a big deal, too.
Michael: When we cut through everything in the hydrogen landscape, what is the holy grail of the hydrogen economy? It’s green hydrogen, because you can crack natural gas and get hydrogen, but that’s, they call it, gray. There’s a whole rainbow of hydrogen colors but…
Russel: There’s many colors. You can look that up on Google if you’re interested .
Michael: [laughs] Like I said, I’m not a hydrogen expert. I do know, again, from talking to a lot of folks that the holy grail is green hydrogen. How do you get green hydrogen? You have to produce the hydrogen with clean electricity, green electricity. That’s great. You can produce hydrogen from wind or solar.
What’s your capacity factor on wind or solar? 30 percent. You might be generating power over the course of the year, so you’re going to only be creating hydrogen 30 percent of the time, maybe. Then you have storage and transportation costs, which are the project killers for hydrogen. If that’s your holy grail, and those are your obstacles, what can turbo expanders do to solve that problem?
Let’s look at the power. Gas is flowing at a lot of these sites 24/7 365, which means you’re generating emissions free power 24/7 365, or as close as you can get to that. We have the reliable, clean power. It’s also cheaper than wind or solar, so you have that. We have the power side of the equation. What are we going to do with that hydrogen once we generate it?
If you’re at a solar farm or a wind field, you’re going to have to transport that. You’re going to have to store it, you’re going to have to transport it. We’re already on the pipeline. We’re turning the pipeline into a power source. What do we…
Russel: You got to move the hydrogen 10 feet.
Michael: Right. You blend it right back into the pipeline. I don’t know what the actual percentage is of the cost of hydrogen, what storage and transportation makes up, but it’s a sizable amount. It’s a big obstacle for the industry to overcome, and we overcome it.
Russel: I’ve been listening to and I’ve done a number of podcasts on hydrogen. I’ve had a guy who was a policy guy out of the UK that’s made presentations at The Hague on hydrogen. It hasn’t released as we’re recording this, but it’s coming out soon. It will come out before this comes out, that conversation with Dan McConnell at the University of Houston’s Energy Center.
He’s working on energy transition, and he’s got an engineering take on it. What I believe to be true is that hydrogen is real, hydrogen is a part of our energy mix going forward, but that we’re a long way from really understanding how to commercialize it at scale.
What you guys are doing at Anax with turbo expanders and focusing on city gates has more opportunity in the short term and more opportunity for acceleration than any of the big projects. The big projects are going to be very hard to get done.
Michael: For the big projects to be successful, the infrastructure has to be proven, which is not the case yet.
Russel: Exactly. That’s exactly right. There’s hydrogen pipelines in the US now, there’s CO2 pipelines in the US now, there’s electrolyzers now, but nothing at the scale we’re going to need. Understanding the economics of all that from a 25-year lifecycle, we’re not going to know that for a while. Don’t know it till we do it.
Michael: No. I’m just laughing. I’m thinking about our head engineer. He is incredibly smart. He’s the type of guy where I came to him one day, and I’m like, “Hey, do you know anything about hydrogen electrolyzers?” He’s like, “Oh, yeah. I built one actually last month at home, just a small one.” I’m like, “OK, so you know pretty well about hydrogen electrolyzers.”
He hears a lot of these things about moving towards a hydrogen economy, and he gets all excited because he’s like, “I don’t see how, when the rubber meets the road, they’re going to be able to do this.” Here’s an operator who’s been working on turboexpanders and pipelines for 40 years. It’s those people that we need to get comfortable with introducing hydrogen to the system before we scale.
Russel: It will be those. Whoever actually breaks the code on this is going to be some small company that’s got a different take on it. It’s not going to come out of the big policy guys in DC, the European Union, or any of that. It’s going to come from an entrepreneur that is doing something in their garage and goes, “Oh, this will work.”
That’s the beauty of the American system. What the regulators are doing, what the policy people are doing is they’re causing us to look at this harder and sooner than we might otherwise look at it. Ultimately, it will be the market that drives it. Not the regulations, not the taxes, not the tax cut.
Michael: I agree with you. I 100 percent agree.
Russel: Those things grease the skids, but they don’t they get the job done. Listen, I got to tell you, Mike, this conversation, to me, is fascinating. I’m really glad you came on because this is one of those things where, I think, you can actually start getting line of sight to an executable hydrogen project that you could do next year.
That is way different than any of the other conversations that I’ve had so far. If you don’t want to do hydrogen, put a trailer with computers in it and do Bitcoin mining. Knock yourself out. Have fun.
Michael: [laughs] Yeah. Really, what it boils down to is it’s a way to monetize the clean electricity that we’re generating.
Russel: I would even say it a little differently. I would say it’s a way to monetize the energy loss in the pressure cut. Basically, what you’re saying is that you’re putting energy into that gas stream to pressurize it and then you’re stripping it out. Let’s get as much of that energy back as we can. That just makes good sense.
Michael: A majority of that energy that you’re adding at your compressor stations, when it goes through that pressure regulating valve just dissipates in the form of heat. We’re recapturing it.
We’re turning, arguably, America’s most important infrastructure asset, our natural gas pipeline system, into a distributed power generating resource. That’s a very macro way of looking at things, but it’s pretty exciting to think about.
Russel: It’s certainly cool. It’s certainly different, which is when I talk to you guys at AGA as well, I have got to get these guys on the podcast because I’m not hearing anybody talk about this.
Michael: We’re trying to change that.
Russel: Mike, I appreciate it. We probably ought to check back in in another year or so. Hopefully, you guys will get a white paper, too, and you could come and share with us the learnings from doing some actual projects.
Michael: If there’s a white paper involved, I’ll have to bring our engineers because I won’t be your guy for that. We can have a good conversation either way.
Russel: The geekier, the better in my world. Thanks, Mike. It’s great to have you.
Michael: Thank you, Russel.
Russel: I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode of The Pipeliners Podcast and our conversation with Mike. Just a reminder before you go, you should register to win our customized Pipeliners Podcast YETI tumbler. Simply visit PipelinePodcastNetwork.com/Win and enter yourself in the drawing.
If you’d like to support the podcast, please leave us a review wherever you happen to listen. You can find instructions at PipelinePodcastNetwork.com. If you have ideas, questions, or topics you’d be interested in, please let me know either on the Contact Us page at PipelinePodcastNetwork.com or reach out to me on LinkedIn.
Thanks for listening. I’ll talk to you next week.
Transcription by CastingWords