DOE-Backed Hydrogen Project Underway in Texas

A California energy company is collaborating with its parent and the University of Texas on a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) project to show that renewable hydrogen can be a cost-effective fuel with several applications, including for both the transportation and power generation sectors.

Frontier Energy, headquartered in San Ramon, California, and a subsidiary of Illinois-based GTI Energy, on Sept. 15 announced the launch of the project, known as H2@Scale in Texas and Beyond. The effort is supported by the DOE’s Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies Office, along with the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE). H2@Scale includes two initiatives, one at the University of Texas-Austin (UT-Austin), and the second at the Port of Houston. H2@Scale is the latest of several hydrogen-related activities announced in recent months in support of research and development of the rapidly expanding hydrogen fuel sector.  

Energy analysts have said hydrogen will be a $130 billion business in the U.S. by 2030, and could develop into a trillion-dollar business globally. A recent industry study said hydrogen projects already have created more than 500,000 new jobs worldwide. China is reportedly investing $17 billion into hydrogen technology, including about $8 billion to develop hydrogen fuel cells for heavy-duty trucks.

Germany in June announced a $9 billion investment in hydrogen research as part of a COVID-19 stimulus package.

The DOE in July announced about $64 million in fiscal year 2020 funding for 18 projects that will support the H2@Scale initiative (Figure 1), designed to accelerate affordable hydrogen production, storage, distribution, and use.

1. The H2@Scale hydrogen project in Texas includes several applications. The DOE-supported initiative is looking at the use of hydrogen fuel in the transportation and power generation sectors. Courtesy: GTI Energy

“The Project H2@Scale in Texas and Beyond brings hydrogen industry leaders together with enthusiastic and important new participants to design, build, and operate the first dedicated renewable hydrogen network. It will demonstrate infrastructure safety and reliability in a real-world situation,” said Nico Bouwkamp, Frontier Energy’s H2@Scale project manager, in an email to POWER. “The project will also leverage Texas’ extensive resources—wind power, solar energy, underground salt-dome storage formations, hydrogen pipelines, natural gas infrastructure, international port operations, and a large, concentrated industrial infrastructure—to demonstrate the potential of DOE’s H2@Scale initiative.” 

Frontier Energy for the past 20 years has staffed and managed the California Fuel Cell Partnership, a public-private collaborative dedicated to hydrogen fuel cell transportation.

“EERE funding and leadership of this project are crucial to show that a resource-rich state like Texas can continue its role as a leading energy provider as the country transitions to renewables,” Bouwkamp said.

$10.8 Million Project

The $10.8 million Texas project is expected to continue for three years. Half the funding has been committed to demonstrating how hydrogen production and use can enable power grid resiliency, and promote job creation, among other things.

The UT-Austin campus will host a first-of-its-kind integration of commercial hydrogen production, distribution, storage, and use. The project partners said they will generate zero-carbon hydrogen onsite via electrolysis with solar and wind power, and reformation of renewable natural gas from a Texas landfill. It is the first time that both sources of renewable hydrogen will be used in the same project.

The hydrogen will power a stationary fuel cell to provide power for the Texas Advanced Computing Center at UT-Austin. It also will supply a hydrogen station with fuel for a fleet of Toyota Mirai fuel cell electric vehicles.

The project team will conduct a feasibility study at the Port of Houston, looking at how to scale up hydrogen production and use. The group will assess available resources, prospective hydrogen users, and delivery infrastructure, including existing pipelines that supply hydrogen to refineries in the region. The study will examine economics, along with policies and regulations, with an eye toward developing a plan for policymakers that would enable heavy-duty fuel cell transportation and energy systems.

Group Integrating Hydrogen Into Community Microgrids

Another California company, Long Beach-based Ways2H, last month announced a partnership with municipal energy consultancy Local Power to integrate onsite renewable hydrogen into the mix for community microgrids. The move reflects an evolution of Local Power’s Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) blueprint for community-based microgrids, including solar with storage, and now adding hydrogen derived from a community’s post-consumer waste.

Ways2H, a joint venture between U.S.-based Clean Energy Enterprises and Japan Blue Energy Corp., in June announced an initiative to build a modular waste-to-hydrogen facility in California.

“Our goal is to help local governments build affordable renewable energy microgrids to power their communities and critical infrastructure, from hospitals to schools, energy-critical businesses and resilience hubs for residents regardless of utility blackouts,” said Paul Fenn, Local Power’s founder and president. Fenn developed the CCA model being used in more U.S. communities, along with municipal Green Bond financing, which has become a trillion-dollar global industry. “We’re tying together key components of the climate problem—energy, decarbonization and resiliency—and removing grid barriers to deployment of local energy generation.”

The Ways2H announcement came just weeks after a group of European countries launched the world’s first integrated hydrogen power-to-power demonstration, a four-year project at a site in France.

Several Major Corporations Backing Texas Project

The Texas project also involves additional companies, including OneH2, Texas Gas Service, SoCalGas, Toyota Motor North America, Shell, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Air Liquide, and PowerCell Sweden AB.

“Hydrogen can be an important link between renewables and existing energy infrastructure,” said Ted Barnes, GTI Energy’s R&D [research & development] Director, Energy Utilization. “The focus of H2@Scale is to enable affordable and reliable large-scale hydrogen generation, transport, storage, and utilization in the U.S. across multiple sectors, and this project will integrate a wide variety of new and existing technologies and identify innovative concepts to develop robust hydrogen solutions. GTI has decades of experience and a long-standing commitment to hydrogen research and technology development, and we are excited to be a part of this project focused on low-carbon energy and integrated energy networks.”

“Hydrogen has significant potential to contribute to our nation’s domestic energy resources, enhance energy security, and enable economic growth, and Texas has the potential to become a leader in this space,” said Michael Lewis, the H2@Scale principle investigator and a senior research engineer at the Center for Electromechanics at UT-Austin. “The Center for Electromechanics and the University are pleased to host the H2@Scale R&D and will help educate a generation of engineers who can make these academic advances real.”

Darrell Proctor is associate editor for POWER (@DarrellProctor1, @POWERmagazine).

SHARE this article