The widespread adoption of clean hydrogen in North America will depend on the construction of “ecosystems” that span economic sectors, state lines and national boundaries, industry supporters said last week at the Green Hydrogen Coalition’s virtual annual conference.
“A green hydrogen economy doesn’t exist in any one city or state; it is a regional and national solution,” Janice Lin, GHC founder and president, said Wednesday.
In wrapping up the two-day conference, Lin said one of her key takeaways was the need for creating hydrogen “hubs” internationally to lay the groundwork for expanded adoption of green hydrogen as a fuel source across multiple economic sectors.
In the U.S., the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill passed by Congress last month provides $8 billion for development of four such hubs in the country, as well as $1 billion toward domestic production of the electrolyzers needed to produce hydrogen, part of the Department of Energy’s Hydrogen Energy Earthshot initiative. (See Granholm Announces R&D into Green Hydrogen as 1st ‘Energy Earthshot.’)
Sunita Satyapal, director of DOE’s Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies Office, reminded conference participants of the initiative’s “1-1-1” objective: “One dollar for 1 kg of clean hydrogen in one decade.”
Through an effort that predates the infrastructure bill, GHC has been spearheading development of a green hydrogen hub centered in Southern California. The goal of the HyDeal Los Angeles initiative is to deliver green hydrogen for the Los Angeles Basin at $1.50/kg by 2030.
Lin said HyDeal LA was conceived in part to help combat the heavy air pollution that plagues the basin. The top five sources of smog in the region, she said, include ships, heavy-duty trucks, offroad equipment, aircraft and diesel locomotives, and much of that pollution emanates from activity related to the area’s massive ports in Los Angeles, Long Beach and San Pedro Bay.
Green hydrogen could be a “key enabler” for improving the region’s air quality, especially for residents living in the disadvantaged communities near the ports and along L.A.’s busy freeways, she said.
“It’s a scalable, commercially viable alternative, both as a direct fuel as hydrogen [and] as [an] energy ingredient in a synthetic fuel that can directly displace all fossil fuel use in and around the port,” Lin said. “Nearer term, we can use green hydrogen to go after cargo-handling equipment [and] heavy-duty vehicles, and in the medium- to long-term — and we call that 2025 to 2030 — we can use green hydrogen to go after locomotives, oceangoing vessels and harbor craft.”
Despite those objectives, Lin noted that HyDeal LA’s initial foothold into a green hydrogen economy will take shape in the electricity sector, as the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) converts the massive coal-fired Intermountain Power Plant in Delta, Utah, into a natural gas-fired plant capable of burning 30% hydrogen when it opens in 2025. With ample transmission capacity to draw on surplus solar generation, the facility will also be capable of producing hydrogen on site — and able to store large volumes in nearby salt domes.
LADWP will also replace its gas-fired Scattergood plant in El Segundo, slated for closure by 2024, with a new plant capable of burning a gas-hydrogen fuel mixture. The utility owns other gas-fired facilities that could also be candidates for conversion.
“Repurposing these power plants, and converting them from natural gas to green hydrogen has immediate local air quality and health benefits,” Lin said. “For starters, once power plants are converted to green hydrogen, their emissions are cut to zero for carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, SOx, volatile organic compounds and particulate matter. In the future, these plants won’t be run as often because we’ll have a whole portfolio of abundant different types of renewable resources, and so the frequency will go down tremendously. That means the NOx emissions from the stack will also go down tremendously.”
HyDeal LA was inspired by the HyDeal Ambition consortium, a similar and more advanced effort unfolding in Europe. Speaking at the GHC conference, HyDeal Ambition founder Thierry LePercq (also a GHC board member) said the concept was the result of collaboration among industry players and governments.
“But first and foremost, what is fundamental in the HyDeal approach is that you bring upstream companies — that is solar developers and electrolyzer makers; you bring the midstream companies — mostly gas transmission and storage; and then you bring offtakers in industry, in energy and potentially other fields,” he said.
LePercq said that as Germany ramps up its renewable capacity and works to phase out coal (by 2030) and natural gas from an electricity system that has already abandoned nuclear power, all dispatchable power serving the country will need to be “H2-ready.”
“What does that mean? It means that dispatchable power in Germany is going to be based on hydrogen. How many gigawatts of renewable energy [to produce the hydrogen] do you need to get there?” LePercq said.
The hydrogen hub intended to serve those needs will be based in an industrialized area of the northwestern Spanish province of Asturias. The renewables needed to produce the hydrogen will take the form of “captive” — or dedicated — solar resources that will generate low-cost electricity to power the electrolysis process.
LePercq said HyDeal Ambition is approaching its project with the idea of serving demand at scale, rather than serving a limited purpose.
“Because when you are a cement plant or fertilizer plant and steel plant, or a thermal power plant, you want very big volumes. You don’t want a tiny project supplying a tiny bit of hydrogen produced locally at super high prices,” he said. “And I must be frank with you: Until recently, in Europe, most of the projects that have been developed have been developed in what we call ‘policy’ hydrogen, small-scale hydrogen, which is not leaving too much, because small volumes, very high prices, [create a] need for very big subsidies.”
The large scale and ready market will enable green hydrogen to quickly become cost-competitive with natural gas, LePercq explained.
Lin has a similarly expansive vision for the HyDeal LA hub, which would connect the L.A. Basin with the Desert Southwest to include LADWP’s IPP project.
“Long term, we set out to make Los Angeles North America’s first green hydrogen industrial hub at scale, the first to achieve truly 100% renewable electricity affordably and reliably; move to fuel refining and alternative synthetic fuels; provide green hydrogen and its derivatives for shipping [and] aviation [and] maybe someday fertilizer; [and] demonstrate green hydrogen flight,” Lin said.
GHC is also talking with other governments — including Japan’s — about exporting green hydrogen, she said.
“As we look at hydrogen as a whole, we really like the idea of this hub approach, because we really need to maximize the capacity factors of the electrolyzers that we’re installing,” said Peter Sawicki, regional director of sales and marketing at Mitsubishi Power Americas, which will supply the turbines for the IPP project. “And in order to do so, we have to really bring in other sectors, which utilize maybe not as much hydrogen [on a] per-unit basis, but also utilize that hydrogen around the clock.”
Sawicki said LADWP and Mitsubishi are “blessed” with the massive storage capacity available at IPP, but for other regions he likes the idea of using pipelines to store hydrogen or move the fuel to and from storage fields.
“Mitsubishi is not going to be developing these pipelines throughout the United States. We’re looking for really partners on that approach as we look to build out this hydrogen infrastructure as we move forward,” he said.
Michael Healy, vice president of origination at 8minute Solar, said his company thinks the use of behind-the-meter solar is the most cost-effective way to produce clean hydrogen.
“It’s not just as simple as hooking up a solar plant to an electrolyzer. There are all these components that go into it, and it will really drive down costs if they’re integrated together in an efficient and optimal way,” Healy said.
Andrew Hegewald, Utah-based gas development manager for Dominion Energy, said four elements need to be addressed in building a hydrogen ecosystem: production, transportation, distribution and consumption. Furthermore, each sector, such as transportation or power generation, will require its own ecosystem.
“Once you understand the landscape, then it’s figuring out who would the partners be in building this ecosystem,” he said.
Barbra Korol, executive director of Alberta’s Department of Energy, noted that the Canadian province currently produces the equivalent of 24% of all hydrogen generated in the U.S., most of which is “gray” hydrogen produced from natural gas.
“Our ambition is to transition that gray production to blue hydrogen or ultra-low carbon — clean — hydrogen,” Korol said.
Alberta has an abundance of natural gas for producing hydrogen, but the province is open to “other pathways,” recognizing that its competitiveness will require reducing the carbon intensity of its hydrogen, she said. The province’s hydrogen strategy, released last month, calls for clean hydrogen “integrated at scale” for use in domestic and export markets.
“It’s very much a regional strategy that seeks to collaborate and find synergies with our partner to the west — our friends in British Columbia — as well as our friends to the south.”
“We feel there’s great alignment between the provinces, the [Canadian] federal government and our friends in the U.S., with each region holding different strengths and advantages, and that collaboration and partnership can address those challenges, resolve the gaps within the supply chain, and really advance this economy swiftly and with purpose,” Korol said.