Is Hydrogen the Future of Carbon Free Energy?
I love the State of South Dakota. The vision of fields full of wheat and corn as I drive across the great plains are mesmerizing. Each summer our power supplier, Basin Electric Power Cooperative, holds a meeting in Deadwood to provide their membership updates on our power supply Cooperative. Most years the discussions surround financial forecasts, power markets, regulatory issues and market volatility. While it might not be the most exciting information, it’s vitally important to keep up with what is happening at our power supplier. However, this year, there was buzz about something different and interesting on the horizon. Instead of just enjoying the scenery on my drive home, this year my mind had other things to think about as I breezed through the great plains. Could hydrogen help with our nations transition to a zero-carbon electric sector without sacrificing reliability?
Recently, Basin announced a partnership with Mitsubishi Power Americas and Bakken Energy LLC to create a world class energy hub in North Dakota. The hub will be composed of facilities that produce, store, transport and consume clean hydrogen. It will be connected by pipeline to other clean hydrogen hubs that will be developed throughout North America.
Developing infrastructure for hydrogen has the potential to help decarbonize many sectors of our economy that are being pressured to target zero carbon emissions. Hydrogen is a carbon free energy and fuel. The most common types of hydrogen are “green” and “blue”. “Green” hydrogen in created from water by using electrolysis to separate hydrogen from oxygen and is done so by utilizing renewable energy. On the other hand, “Blue” hydrogen starts with natural gas to produce hydrogen and carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide emissions are then captured and sequestered. This project with Basin and Mitsubishi will be focusing on blue hydrogen, creating hydrogen from natural gas and capturing the carbon dioxide.
You might be asking yourself why an international company like Mitsubishi Power would be interested in partnering with Basin to develop this hydrogen hub in the middle of North Dakota? If you have ever been on our power supply tour, you will remember visiting a Basin subsidiary, Dakota Gasification Company (DGC). One of the functions that DGC does, is to chemically “break” natural gas into different elements, creating other products and commodities. DGC could be viewed as a giant chemistry set built on the prairie in the middle of abundant coal, oil and natural gas reserves.
The assets and capabilities of this facility are immense. However, as natural gas prices have declined in recent years, the plant has struggled to remain competitive in the marketplace. One of the main commodities that DGC produces is synthetic natural gas, created by “cracking” coal and utilizing those elements to create natural gas.
This partnership with Mitsubishi would bring an innovative technology that has been tested elsewhere by Mitsubishi using similar technologies. The idea would be to utilize DGC to create blue hydrogen while capturing and sequestering the carbon dioxide. Most of the facilities and staff are already in place to make this a reality. Hydrogen can be safely, piped, stored and shipped to provide power generation, with zero carbon emissions. This could give new life to DGC and bring an opportunity to develop clean baseload generation to reliably meet our growing energy needs.
It is still in the early stages of the discussions, so we need to see how this partnership progresses. However, this is a very interesting concept, and I am optimistic that this could be a positive move forward.
Until next month, stay safe and God bless.