[Editor's note: This article originally appeared in the November issue of E&P Plus. Subscribe to the digital publication here.]  

Transitioning to a carbon-neutral industry—as has been the stated goal of supermajors and global service providers alike—is an ambitious task and one that will require a mix of efficient fuels and the innovative technologies to produce those fuels.

Although the use of hydrogen as an alternative fuel to oil and natural gas is nothing new, its application is gaining in popularity as the world seeks new fuel sources. Of the multitude of hydrogen technologies that are either being tested or adopted around the world, Baker Hughes recently announced the successful test and application of the world’s first hydrogen blend turbine for gas networks.

Baker Hughes’ NovaLT12 turbine is powered by a blend of up to 10% hydrogen. The turbine will be installed by next year at Snam’s gas compressor station in Istrana, Italy.

“The completion of this test represents an important step in defining the energy of the future,” said Baker Hughes Chairman and CEO Lorenzo Simonelli.

According to Baker Hughes, its NovaLT turbine is capable of burning methane gas and hydrogen blends from as little as 5% to as much as 100% hydrogen. The company reports that by blending 10% hydrogen into the total annual gas capacity transported by Snam, it is estimated that 7 Bcm of hydrogen could be introduced into the network annually, an amount equivalent to the annual gas consumption of 3 million families and represents a reduction of 5 MMtons of CO2 emissions.

Luca Maria Rossi, CTO, turbomachinery and process solutions with Baker Hughes, called hydrogen “one of the most promising fuels.” But he acknowledged that for it to be seen as a truly green source of energy, hydrogen itself would need to be produced out of green energy.

(Source: Baker Hughes)
The NovaLT12 turbine is capable of burning up to 100% hydrogen. (Source: Baker Hughes)

Hydrogen is produced most commonly from fossil fuels, primarily natural gas. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), natural gas accounts for about three-quarters of the annual global dedicated hydrogen production of about 70 MMtonnes.

“The name of the game in hydrogen is for it to be integrated into production with renewables,” Rossi said. “Hydrogen can be used as a fuel for gas turbines but also for cars or for heating a house. It’s a completely clean energy.”


Hydrogen as a fuel for cars is likely far off due to the lack of refueling stations, but there are efforts being made to speed up the transition. According to the IEA, there are eight countries with policies supporting various levels of hydrogen incentives in transportation. In addition, the IEA reports that there are about 50 global targets, mandates and policy incentives in place today that support hydrogen technologies, most of which are in transportation.

Baker Hughes is not new to hydrogen technology. The company developed its first hydrogen compressor in 1962 and, as Rossi explained, has worked to develop different hydrogen technologies throughout the entire supply chain. In 2008, Baker Hughes built the world’s first turbine to run on 100% hydrogen. Today it has more than 1,000 units of hydrogen compressors installed across multiple applications, with about 70 projects worldwide using gas turbine technology to burn a variety of fuel mixtures with hydrogen content ranging from 5% to 100%.

“This is not just a laboratory,” Rossi said. “We have actually sold these products, and these machines are going into the field and producing energy. This gives us an incredible advantage in terms of experience and learning what we can do with this fuel.”

One of the ways in which hydrogen can be produced with less of an environmental impact is through electrolysis. Electrolysis uses electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, a reaction that takes place in an electrolyzer.

According to the U.S. Energy Department, electrolyzers can range in size from appliance-sized equipment that is suited for small-scale distributed hydrogen production to large-scale, central production facilities that could be tied directly to renewable or other non-greenhouse-gas emitting forms of electricity.