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How this big project will turn the high desert in central Utah ‘green’

Delta hydrogen project slated to be largest in the world

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Michelle Budge, Deseret News

What is touted to be the world’s largest industrial green hydrogen production and storage facility received a conditional commitment of more than $504 million in federal funding, a big development for the Advanced Clean Energy Storage project.

And it will be near Delta in Millard County in central Utah, which is already home to Enel Green Power’s plant in Cove Fort, the world’s first large-scale power generation facility to successfully combine geothermal with hydropower technology.

Central Utah, also home to solar fields, wind farms, vast geothermal resources and the transformation of hog manure into renewable natural gas, definitely has it going on when it comes to the renewable energy revolution and being a player on the world stage.

“I like to call it the world’s renewable energy oasis. And maybe that is a bit hyperbolic, but I don’t think it is,” said Thom Carter, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Energy Development, citing the vast array of renewable energy in place, the geothermal FORGE project and now this green hydrogen endeavor.

“It is a unique situation that is happening right here, in this little corner of Utah and I think it just shows that Utahns are interested in innovation, in finding solutions.”

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said the federal funding is a huge deal on multiple fronts. 

“I’m pleased to see (the energy department) support Utah’s efforts to become the world’s largest hydrogen hub,” he said. “This is not only a win for Millard County and Utah, but it is also an important step toward developing new energy technologies as we utilize an ‘all of the above’ approach to meet our energy demands.”

There are a lot of gee-whiz factors with the Advanced Clean Energy project, which is a combined effort among Mitsubishi Powers America, Magnum Development, Haddington Ventures and IPP Renewed.

From coal to natural gas to green hydrogen

The Intermountain Power Plant near Delta is transitioning from coal at its two 900-megawatt units to natural gas and hydrogen. The plant will host two combined cycle units to use those two energy resources in a transition expected by mid-2025. By 2045, it will run purely on hydrogen.

“It won’t surprise me if it goes faster than that,” said John Ward, plant spokesman. “That is what Mitsubishi commercially guaranteed. ... I think what we will see is they will transition from natural gas to green hydrogen as quickly as they can and they will be 100% before 2045.”

Michael Ducker, senior vice president of hydrogen infrastructure for Mitsubishi Powers America and president of Advanced Clean Energy Storage, said the scale of the project both in generation and storage is what is creating the excitement.

“When you have a half-billion loan going to a huge project like this, it signifies the momentum, all the excitement and all the push that is here that this is absolutely real and is happening,” he said.

Here’s how it works

Because there is an abundance of renewable energy derived from wind and solar, the development of those sources of electricity has to be curtailed — the systems aren’t being used to their full capacity.

The project will take that excess solar and wind capacity and through a process called alkaline electrolysis it will separate oxygen and hydrogen from water through 220 megawatt electrolyzers, producing up to 110 tons of hydrogen a day.

It is called green hydrogen because it is derived from renewable power source.

“So putting that scale in perspective, the entire world has installed about 286 megawatts of electrolyzers. Our project alone is going to be 220 megawatts, so we’ll be nearly doubling the entire world capacity of electrolyzers to date with one project alone,” Ducker said.

The other “wow” factor of the project is the salt cavern storage reservoirs.

“Those salt caverns will be the largest single storage site for hydrogen, globally,” Ducker said.

He pointed out that the battery storage capacity across the United States sits at two gigawatt hours via lithium ion batteries. The Utah project will have storage for 300 gigawatt hours of energy.

“So we’re about 150 times the entire install base of lithium ion batteries to date. So just the pure magnitude and scale is tremendous,” he said.

The salt domes for storing the hydrogen will be 3,500 feet underground and will be as deep as the Empire State building is tall — about 1,500 feet.

Ducker said the caverns will enable long duration storage of energy and prevent monthly curtailments of solar and wind energy.

“California, on average, curtails about 300 gigawatt hours a month of renewable energy and that is in the winter and spring time frames ... yet they’re seeing extreme deficits in the summer time frame,” he said.

According to the Energy Information Administration, large hydrogen fuel cells can supply electricity to the grid, supply backup or emergency power in buildings and supply electricity in places that are not connected to electric power grids.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory said U.S. demand for hydrogen is a little more than 11 million tons a year and is primarily used in the industrial sector, but by 2050, a study suggests that domestic demand could grow by as much as 45 million tons a year, especially given its integration in the electrical grid.

Room for capacity, growth and collaboration

While the energy generated by the Intermountain Power Plant, in its current form and future form, powers Los Angeles and surrounding areas — there is nothing that would prohibit its member Utah cities from necessarily tapping into the renewable hydrogen resource, Ward said.

Ward, joined by Carter, said the beauty of IPP is its transmission lines. Those lines will be upgraded, with one that has 2,400 megawatts of capacity.

“We’re going to be building 840 megawatts of generation as part of IPP Renewed, so that leaves a lot of additional capacity on a line that will stimulate other energy developments,” Ward said. “So that is tremendous capacity that will be available.”

Such transmission capacity is critical to the future of the grid, Carter added.

“If you are trying to look at the big picture, the big question is what are we going to do about capacity. You can’t have one conversation about the need for cleaner energy without having the other over the need for transmission,” he said. “The transportation or transmission of electrons is the key to success.”

Ward added that if the project’s planned consumption of water is a concern — especially in a state where more than 99% of it is impacted by severe drought — there is reason to celebrate.

The current water demand at the plants’ coal-fired generating units is 12,500 acre-feet per year, although it has rights to 45,000 acre-feet of water annually.

The projected water usage is 2,500 acre-feet of water per year for the electrolysis to produce hydrogen and development of the long-term salt dome storage will take 7,000 acre-feet of water per year for a two-year period.

The Advanced Clean Energy Storage project is not a singular pursuit for Utah in the development of hydrogen resources.

Earlier this year, the state joined Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming in a memorandum of understanding to create a regional clean hydrogen hub, competing for up to $8 billion allocated last year through the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

The U.S. Department of Energy is scheduled to release a request for proposals this month for the development of up to four regional hydrogen hubs around the country. Utah and its regional partners are in the hunt for some of that money.

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