Best of the West: The clean hydrogen revolution; Medicinal drone delivery; Identifying abandoned oil and gas wells, 6,000-year-old ovens in Washington  

The Western Governors' Association keeps you updated on the latest news in the West. Here are the top stories for the week starting May 29, 2023. (Photo courtesy of Pronghorn Clean Hydrogen Project, Jessica Plance).

Nearly every state in the Western U.S. has teamed up in various coalitions to vie for billions of dollars in federal funding for the creation of Regional Clean Hydrogen Hubs. But while a final decision is not expected until next Winter, many western states have already begun developing hydrogen projects in hopes of  becoming leaders in the industry.  

To further incentivize hydrogen projects, Colorado Governor Jared Polis recently signed legislation that creates a new state tax credit for each kilogram of clean hydrogen produced, meaning it must be produced with clean electricity and only allow for minimal leaks in transport, favoring projects that use hydrogen where other clean fuels won’t work. 

A coalition of federal agencies also recently published U.S. National Clean Hydrogen Strategy and Roadmap, a living strategy that provides a snapshot of hydrogen production, transport, storage, and use in the United States today, as well as an assessment of the opportunity for hydrogen to contribute to national decarbonization goals across sectors over the next 30 years.  

Many of the opportunities outlined in the roadmap are already being realized in new facilities. 

Obsidian Renewables in Oregon recently signed an agreement with the Grant County Public Utility District in Ephrata, Washington to design a power plant that will be fueled entirely by renewable hydrogen.  

The $3 billion hub would produce up to 360 metric tons of clean hydrogen per day, which it can store for weeks in its modular storage systems, making the energy available to fuel electric generators “during times of high demand but low renewable availability,” according to Obsidian’s public application.

Nordex USA expects to start construction on the Pronghorn Clean Hydrogen Project in Wyoming by 2026. The $2.2 billion project, which will be powered entirely by on-site wind and solar farms, is projected to be up and running by 2028. “This “clean hydrogen” may be used directly as a renewable fuel or could be combined with other gasses to make ammonia or synthetic fuel, such as green diesel,” it says on its website.    

CF Industries, the world’s largest producer of ammonia, and NextEra Energy Resources, the world’s largest generator of wind and solar energy, as well as a world leader in battery storage, also announced plans to develop a zero-carbon-intensity hydrogen project in Oklahoma.

Once completed The Verdigris Complex will be powered by a dedicated 450-MW renewable energy facility and produce enough green hydrogen to generate up to 100,000 tons of zero-carbon green ammonia each year that will support the transition of American agriculture to low- and zero-carbon fertilizers.   

The Idaho National Laboratory and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have partnered with Idaho Power to evaluate the feasibility and advantages of producing hydrogen at existing hydropower plants. Integrating hydrogen production with hydropower can enhance grid stability through energy storage, reoxygenate water for downstream environmental improvements, and support decarbonizing energy production.

Chemists at the University of Kansas and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory used pulse radiolysis to determine the complete reaction mechanism for an important group of “water-splitting” catalysts, that could allow for the production of pure hydrogen without using fossil fuels.

“The techniques that were used both here at KU and Brookhaven are quite specialized,” James Blakemore, associate professor of chemistry, whose research in Lawrence forms the basis of the discovery. “Implementing these allowed us to get a full picture of how to make hydrogen from its constituent parts, protons, and electrons.”  

Identifying Abandoned Wells: The U.S. Department of the Interior has identified more than 130,000 orphaned wells in 30 states including in New Mexico. But many more remain unidentified. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates there could be millions of orphaned and abandoned wells. To address this issue, The Los Alamos National Lab teamed up with several other national labs, including Sandia National Laboratories, to develop drones that can identify and characterize orphaned wells using methane sensors and optical imaging. This will help prioritize where plugging occurs. 

Medicinal Drone Delivery: To overcome the formidable geographical barriers that surround Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota, The Mandan Hidatsa and Arikara Nation received a federal grant of almost $2 million to test the plausibility of delivering medicine and lab specimens via drone.

Solar Powered Tiny Homes: Using a material known as cellular concrete, Red Cloud Renewable and InOurHands have developed a version of a tiny home that ranges in cost from $7,500 to $9,000. The dome-shaped homes are naturally insulated, take only a few days to assemble, are fireproof, and can be heated with a small solar panel.

6,000-Year-Old-Ovens: The Kalispel Tribe has uncovered evidence of ancient earth ovens on the bank of the Pend Oreille River believed to be 6,000 years old that could reveal new insights into the foods the Kalispel people have been preparing and eating for millennia.

“This is some of the oldest technology used by humans to cook food anywhere in the world,” Shannon Tushingham, an archaeology professor from Washington State University who’s leading up the archeological dig, said. “And here, we have some of the oldest ovens in North America.”

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