Western regional hydrogen hub plans take a baby step forward

Overview of plans for interconnected projects across four western states submitted to DOE in competitive funding process

John R. Moses
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON – New Mexico’s efforts to compete along with three other states to become a regional hub for hydrogen-related energy projects took a step forward Dec. 27 when the concept paper submitted for the Western Interstate Hydrogen Hub (WISHH ) got a positive recommendation from federal officials.

The paper outlined a WISHH regional strategy the states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming plan to pursue to develop hydrogen projects together.

New Mexico Environment Department Communications Director Matthew Maez noted that the “encouraged” recommendation issued by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Regional Clean Hydrogen Hubs program is only a step in the process, but a positive one.

Out of 79 submissions, reviewers issued 33 “encouraged” recommendations to concept papers that were sent in earlier this year, the state’s news release stated.

At stake: a lot of federal dollars.

"In September 2022, DOE opened a $7 billion funding opportunity to create clean hydrogen hubs across the country and form a critical arm of America’s future clean energy economy," DOE said in a summary of the application process so far. "For the first stage of this process, OCED required Concept Paper submittals and received 79 submissions. In these Concept Papers, applicants requested nearly $60 billion in federal funding — roughly eight to nine times the size of DOE’s $6-7 billion solicitation."

Bipartisan coalition behind plan

The effort to create the western intermountain coalition has united governors who do not all share the same political views in a bipartisan effort to boost local economies and take advantage of available federal project funding for clean hydrogen fuel projects.

In the NMED's news release, each of the states involved took time for a bit of cheerleading while pledging to work together and create a successful application.

“New Mexico and our western state partners are the place to invest in a clean, sustainable hydrogen economy,” said James Kenney, cabinet secretary of the New Mexico Environment Department. “We appreciate those businesses who already invested in New Mexico and welcome further clean hydrogen investments to help us reach our ambitious climate goals.”

James Kenney

“We are pleased that the Department of Energy sees our vision for developing a hydrogen hub in the intermountain region.” said Greg Todd, energy adviser for Utah Gov. Spencer Cox. “Utah will play a vital role in seeing this project through to fruition, and we’re excited to now begin the work of paving the way for hydrogen to become part of our future fuel mix.”

Colorado also weighed in.

“As Colorado and other western mountain states diversify their energy economies with renewable sources, clean hydrogen will play an important role in grid resilience, while helping achieve Governor (Jared) Polis’ goal of 100% renewable electricity generation in Colorado by 2040,” Colorado Energy Office Executive Director Will Toor said in the release.

The Cowboy State is also behind the plan.

"The positive response to our concept paper is not unexpected as we know we have a winning proposal. We have a lot of work to do to capitalize on this good news and we are looking forward to building on our concept and submitting a winning application,” Wyoming Energy Authority Executive Director Dr. Glen Murrell said.

San Juan College, NAPI part of the plan

The plan integrates training for workers in the new hydrogen industry into the mix and will lean heavily on San Juan College, according to the concept paper.

“The envisioned workforce development system would ensure individuals could receive training within 80 miles of their homes,” the concept paper states. “The San Juan College School of Energy in Farmington, NM, will serve as our pathfinder or model.

“As New Mexico’s Center of Excellence for Renewable Energy and Sustainability, the school, working closely with industry, provides a highly skilled, fit-for-purpose workforce,” the paper further states. “In the past four years, the school has conducted multiple hydrogen-focused outreach efforts, been named the training provider of choice for an onsite scalable hydrogen solutions company, and sits on the Education Committee at the Center for Hydrogen Safety. We will assess the success of our programs through a series of metrics tracking the alignment of jobs filled in target workforce areas, along with the demographics of individuals enrolled in and completing aligned education/training programs.”

Sustainability and social justice goals outlined

The concept paper leans as heavily on potential regional economic benefits as it does the potential for environmental benefits and positive impacts on disadvantaged communities.

“Our hub concept coordinates, integrates, supplements, and accelerates hydrogen production, transport, storage, and use in a sustainable and socially just manner and promotes workforce development to create high-quality jobs for our diverse populations,” the concept paper states. “Our concept includes underserved and economically disadvantaged communities (DAC). It includes massive hydrogen production, well beyond FOA requirements, to strategically reduce carbon emissions and other pollutants in our region.”

The regional plan includes eight production projects, “exceeding DOE’s production target while demonstrating best-in-class carbon reduction and full commitment to the principles of EEEJ, Justice40, and diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA).”

Among eight projects cited were conversion of the Escalante Generating Station from coal to hydrogen and a project with Navajo Agricultural Production Industries.

A tractor plows an area on May 18, 2020 at Navajo Agricultural Products Industry. A proposal to convert heavy farm equipment at NAPI to hydrogen fuel is part of a multi-state proposal to the federal government to get funding for a regional hydrogen hub.

“With 110,000 acres of farmland on the Navajo Reservation, NAPI is committed to sustainable farming,” the paper states. It said NAPI plans to convert its farming operation to hydrogen fuel, including fuel “for all major farm equipment” and its greenhouses.

Part of the plan is establishment of hydrogen fuel corridors for trucks to be able to conveniently operate on hydrogen, as well as other heavy vehicles like farm equipment.

“All four states support clean hydrogen corridors to provide hydrogen for heavy duty trucking, mining equipment, and rail,” the paper stated. “Three of our partners, NAPI, DEU, and Libertad are particularly focused on increasing hydrogen use for trucking and heavy duty equipment.

“Our intention is to establish corridors along our principal interstate highways that allow for fueling using hydrogen,” the paper continues. “These include the I-40 and I-80 corridors. In addition, DEU will focus on supplying hydrogen for fueling at Utah’s Inland Port.”

The paper also describes plans to move hydrogen as a mixed gas, utilizing existing pipelines and transporting it “as 100% hydrogen through new pipelines, and as cryogenic hydrogen for more remote usage sites.” The paper also covers plans for storage and use of the product.

Among the broad uses cited in the paper are:

  • Load-leveling of the region’s increasing use of renewable energy.
  • Transportation and industrial applications, including refineries, ammonia production, steel production, cement production, brewing, and mining.
  • General residential/commercial heating, using safe blends of hydrogen and natural gas.

“By grounding near-term use as electricity generation and blending hydrogen into distribution lines, initial use is guaranteed and will provide time for production and transportation infrastructure to grow to a level that will support high-value industrial decarbonization,” the paper stated.

The partnership depends on “regional linkages,” including projects connecting Colorado and New Mexico.

“Once major industrial users develop, hydrogen flow from New Mexico north to the southern part of the Colorado Front Range is possible,” the paper states. “During the H2Hub program, transport will occur as mixed gas in existing pipelines. Dedicated hydrogen pipeline segments are planned for the future but most likely in 2030 or later.”

Application deadline approaches

Although gaining the “encouraged” designation is better than the "discouraged” notification, the process doesn’t stop “any entity that submitted a concept paper from submitting a full application, the recommendation serves to caution applicants who received a “discourage” notification from expending the time and resources necessary to develop a successful full application,” the news release noted.

The deadline for groups to submit a final application is April 7, 2023. DOE plans to notify awardees during the summer of 2023, the release stated.

Getting down to the details

Some specific potential uses are cited in the report.

“While power generation, residential/commercial heating, and heavy equipment fuel are the principal uses for our hydrogen during the early years of development, the production and infrastructure allows for the development of other uses over time, including: mining – exploring hydrogen use for 1-2 pilot sites, possibly including Kennecott mine near Salt Lake City, with >100 300-ton haul trucks, each using about 1 ton/day of hydrogen. Potential use in all 4 states.

A worker checks on operations at a natural gas processing facility. Such facilities could be equipped with gear that could strip hydrogen out of natural gas and sequester the carbon that remains.

"Refining – Proposing pilot plant in a Justice40 community to offtake hydrogen from natural gas refineries and sequester carbon. Potential use in all 4 states.

Evraz Rocky Mountain Steel sign.

"Steel production – Exploring clean hydrogen use at EVRAZ steel facility in Pueblo, CO. Near-term capacity of 40 tons/day for furnaces. Ultimate capacity of almost 500 tons/day.

"Distribution centers – Proposing partnerships to convert to hydrogen from current use of natural gas with no carbon capture. Supply potential for hydrogen-fueled forklifts, particularly in Southern NM and its fast-growing U.S.-Mexico ports of entry.

"Other industrial uses – Potential for adoption by food processing facilities, bakeries, breweries, ceramics production, aerospace, rail, and semiconductor operations through region.”

More information and a link to the concept paper can be found at the RANGE Collaborative website.