Texas must move faster to become a clean energy and green hydrogen hub

Japanese engine manufacturer Yanmar developed the first small diesel engine in 1933; this year, the conglomerate is showcasing a hydrogen fuel cell for ocean-going vessels.

Every day, one of the world’s largest manufacturers announces a new clean energy technology, and many rely on hydrogen. Texas has an almost unparalleled opportunity to become the world leader in clean hydrogen, but only if our business and political leaders can see beyond oil and natural gas.

“Texas is starting off with great advantages,” said Brian Weeks, senior director of hydrogen development at the Gas Technology Institute, a nonprofit that supports new technologies. “Moving from the old hydrogen industry to the new world of hydrogen and clean energy has been a very long and slow process to get companies interested and government agencies involved.”

Texas is the nation’s largest hydrogen producer, and most of the gas is used to refine oil or make ammonia. The Gulf Coast region is home to half of the nation’s hydrogen pipelines and huge underground caverns that store the gases.

Few places in the world do more with hydrogen – few clean fuels offer so many opportunities.

Yanmar’s hydrogen fuel cell technology is creating a new market and addressing one of the most difficult sectors to decarbonize, intercontinental shipping.

Texas researchers are developing new applications ranging from drone fuel to wind and solar energy storage. So why is the nation’s largest green hydrogen hub heading to Mississippi?

“We’re not that far off,” acknowledged Brett Perlman, CEO of the Center for Houston’s Future, at a conference on the future of hydrogen in the Ontario and Texas economies. “We’re just getting ready to launch our effort.”

As I explained in previous columns, hydrogen puts hydro into hydrocarbons. Gas is the most common element in the universe and contains more energy per kilogram than any fuel other than nuclear fissile material.

Humans can generate pure hydrogen in two general ways. The traditional method heats natural gas with steam, releasing 9 kilograms of carbon dioxide per kilogram of hydrogen.

Electrolysis applies electricity to water, splitting it into hydrogen and oxygen. If the electricity is produced by wind or solar installations, the hydrogen is considered green. But hydrogen made from electrolysis typically costs $30 per kilogram, and it only becomes economical at $4 or less per kilogram.

However, hundreds of companies think they can make clean hydrogen affordable. One way is to capture the carbon associated with the vapor process, creating what the industry calls blue hydrogen. Others think they can reduce the cost of making green hydrogen.

One of the most ambitious hydrogen projects in the world, located on the north-west border of England and Wales, will produce both colors. HyNet harnesses existing natural gas production, offshore wind power, salt caverns and existing refineries to replace fossil fuels with hydrogen.

“HyNet involves both upgrading existing infrastructure and developing new infrastructure. This includes underground pipelines, hydrogen production plants and storage facilities,” HyNet’s mission statement reads. “The project aims to lead the creation of a low carbon economy, protecting and creating local jobs in North West and North Wales and across the UK.”

Sounds like something Texas should be doing. The Center for Houston’s Future, the University of Texas, the Gas Technology Institute, and a dozen private companies are working on something similar, called [email protected] Texas.

“We need to start where the existing asset base is,” Perlman said, pointing to the oil and gas industry.

Texas produces 30% of the country’s hydrogen, almost entirely produced by steam. The Houston H2 Hydrogen Hub would capture carbon and sequester it in existing caverns to turn it blue.

Perlman said smelters were considering Texas because of existing hydrogen pipelines that run near natural gas power plants. Electricity generators can mix hydrogen with natural gas to reduce carbon emissions.

Smelters can also buy cheap electricity from Texas wind and solar power plants when the grid doesn’t need it. They efficiently store wind and solar energy in the form of hydrogen for later use as a backup to the power grid.

Texas petrochemical facilities can convert hydrogen to liquid ammonia, another way to store renewable energy. With a little adaptation, ammonia can power diesel engines.

The state will need more pipelines, transmission lines, hydrogen storage and electrolysis equipment. But these things create jobs for oil and gas workers looking to escape a declining industry.

[email protected] kicks off in earnest next month and offers a tremendous economic opportunity. If Texas is to maintain its current leadership in the energy economy, we must support this type of innovation and stop living in the past.

Tomlinson writes commentary on business, economics, and politics.


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