DOE investing in Wyoming clean hydrogen
Hopes to transition fossil-fueled state to low-carbon economy Metal Tech News - December 22, 2021
Last updated 12/28/2021 at 2:04pm
Seeking to wean Wyoming's energy grids and coffers off coal and other fossil fuels, the United States Department of Energy Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management is providing the University of Wyoming School of Energy Resources with funds to evaluate the idea of deploying clean hydrogen technologies in the state.
The Biden administration sees the development of affordable clean hydrogen as a key to achieving its goal of net-zero carbon emissions in the U.S. by 2050. This elemental fuel is seen as especially critical for providing green energy to heavy industries that are otherwise difficult to decarbonize – cement and steel manufacturing, metals refining, and heavy truck and train transportation are among the greenhouse gas emitters that could benefit from affordable clean hydrogen.
Part of a larger strategy not to leave America's fossil fuel producing regions out in the cold as it pushes to transition toward net-zero energy production, DOE is providing the University of Wyoming School of Energy Resources with up to $644,000 to assess the economic impacts of fossil energy production in the state and evaluate opportunities and research that supports the deployment clean hydrogen technologies.
"Power and industrial sectors are some of the largest sources of carbon emissions today, and DOE investments like this one support the important role of clean hydrogen in decarbonizing these sectors," said Jennifer Wilcox, acting assistant secretary of the DOE Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management.
While the burning of hydrogen only produces water vapor as its exhaust, this fuel rarely exists in its elemental gaseous form on Earth, and the process of isolating pure hydrogen has its own carbon footprint that can cancel any benefits of the fuel.
The production of hydrogen has largely been lumped into three color-coded categories:
• Grey hydrogen – produced by using a steam process to extract the element from natural gas or other fossil fuels without capturing the carbon byproducts produced.
• Blue hydrogen – also produced through the "steam reforming" of natural gas and other hydrocarbons but with the use of carbon capturing.
• Green hydrogen – produced by using zero-carbon energy sources to split the hydrogen atoms of water molecules through a process called electrolysis.
More concerned with carbon neutrality than color codes, the U.S. government has deemed all carbon-neutral hydrogen produced with renewable energy, fossil fuels with carbon capture and sequestration technologies, nuclear, and other eligible energy sources as clean.
This clean hydrogen, however, currently costs around $5 per kilogram to produce. With a kilogram of hydrogen being roughly energy-equivalent to one gallon of gasoline, this cost is too high for wide commercial adoption.
"Part of our path to a net-zero carbon future means investing in innovation to make clean energy sources like hydrogen more affordable and widely adopted so we can reach our goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050," U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm said in July.
Toward this higher goal, DOE launched the Hydrogen Energy Earthshot, an initiative to lower the cost of producing clean hydrogen to $1/kg within a decade.
Wyoming, a northern state that depends on coal and natural gas to stay warm and keep the lights on and exports its fossil fuel energy to neighboring states for the same purposes, could play a role in lowering the costs of clean hydrogen.
Already making strides toward this idea, Wyoming recently developed an "all-of-the-above" energy strategy that includes leveraging its rich fossil fuel and renewable energy resources to produce zero-carbon hydrogen. This includes utilizing at least some of its natural gas pipeline infrastructure to begin delivering the hydrogen it produces.
"Wyoming has a unique opportunity given its overlapping abundance of natural resources (both hydrocarbon and renewable) and existing infrastructure to support hydrogen production and become an export powerhouse in the future," the Wyoming Energy Authority penned in a summary of its energy strategy.
The clean hydrogen funding provided by DOE will support Wyoming's energy strategy by mobilizing a whole-of-government effort to reduce climate pollution in every sector of the state's economy, including addressing Wyoming's energy exports to neighboring states.
The research being supported by this funding could also aid DOE in meeting its Hydrogen Energy Earthshot objectives by providing information that could help accelerate the commercialization of clean hydrogen technologies in Wyoming and other states.
"Today, roughly 95% of the hydrogen in the United States is produced from natural gas without carbon capture, which is not clean," said Wilcox. "These efforts in Wyoming are a first step in demonstrating how applying carbon capture technologies can advance a cost-effective and low-carbon hydrogen economy in a just and sustainable way."
DOE says the study also will include direct outreach and engagement with local tribal nations and other traditionally marginalized groups to ensure that the study's findings represent a diverse set of perspectives.