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All Green Hydrogen Roads Lead To…Wyoming!

A new waste recovery scheme could add a tinge of green hydrogen to Wyoming’s status as the biggest coal producer in the United States.

The state of Wyoming, known far and wide as an epicenter of the US coal industry, is about to become a key player in the global green hydrogen revolution. Wyoming is the home of the mighty Powder River coal basin. It also happens to be the place where a company called Raven SR calls home, and Raven has just hooked up with a company based in New York State called Hyzon Motors to build 100 waste-to-hydrogen hubs in the US and around the world. Wait, what’s going to happen to all those coal jobs?

Coal Jobs Out, Green (Hydrogen) Jobs In

The former US president rose to power on the wings of a promise to save coal jobs, only to fall flat. Coal worker unions have been left to pick up the pieces, and it looks like new green jobs are one one of those pieces.

The United Mine Workers of America, for one, came through with a statement in support of President Biden’s climate-friendly American Jobs Plan, contingent on its members getting a share of those new green jobs.

In the same statement, UMWA also lobbied for saving the remaining few remaining coal jobs, partly through policies that ramp up demand for the metallurgical coal used in steel making and other industries.

The metallurgical angle is not going to be of much help to Powder River coal workers. The sprawling Powder River Basin made Wyoming into the nation’s top coal producer in 1986 and it never looked back. However, coal from the Powder River Basin is not that coal. It is the thermal kind, used for generating electricity.

More Green Hydrogen For The US

Promises or not, the fact is that the thermal coal window is snapping shut in the US and elsewhere. Not too long ago, coal accounted for about half of all US electricity generation. Now it’s down in the 20% range and falling. Natural gas is running far ahead of coal, and both nuclear and renewables (including hydropower) are breathing down its neck.

Into this picture pops green hydrogen. Much of the H2 hullabaloo is all about hydrogen for fuel cell vehicles, a field that has exploded into heavy duty trucks as well as aircraft and watercraft, including seagoing cargo ships.

The US is already eyeballing hydrogen as a carrier of clean power from offshore wind farms, and even the oil-soaked state of Texas is exploring the hydrogen hub concept, assisted by solar power as well as wind.

Wind and solar-powered hydrogen generation is currently the main pathway for sourcing green hydrogen, which can be pushed out of water with an electrical current. However, that is not the only way. Hydrogen from waste is also becoming a thing, and that is the specialty of Wyoming-based Raven SR.

How Green Is My Hydrogen, Waste Gas Edition

Without getting deep into the weeds of the dizzying array of colors being deployed in the service of identifying the different sources of hydrogen, for now let’s drop Raven SR’s technology into the green hydrogen category as a form of recycling solid waste, including medical and industrial waste as well as sewage.

One of Raven’s main targets is the massive, practically endless supply of municipal solid waste, which often gets trucked over long distances to be dumped in a landfill or burned in an incinerator. Biogas extraction from both sewage and landfills is already a thing. Raven’s hydrogen recovery technology takes it to the next level.

Unlike the conventional version of solid waste-to-energy systems, Raven’s technology is not based on combustion. It’s a patented steam carbon dioxide steam reforming process, which can work on industrial wastes in addition to municipal wastes.

Raven’s green hydrogen system is also scalable, which allows for locating green hydrogen recovery systems at or near the point where refuse is assembled. That would  help cut down on the carbon footprint involved in shipping trash to landfills or centralized incinerators.

Raven and Hyzon plan to begin their 100-hub journey in San Francisco, with the first hubs expected to be commissioned next year.

“At the hubs, which can be built at or near landfills, Raven SR will convert mixed and multiple organic wastes, including municipal solid waste, greenwaste, food waste, medical, paper, etc. into locally produced, renewable hydrogen for Hyzon’s fleet of zero-emission commercial vehicles,” they explain.

The system fits into a production unit about the size of two semi truck trailers, which is a pretty small footprint considering that the target is 50 tons of solid waste daily. According to the two partners, that’s enough to produce 4.5 tons of green hydrogen for 100 heavy duty fuel cell vehicles.

More Green Hydrogen For The Fuel Cell Vehicle Of The Future

Of interest to natural gas stakeholders, Ravens’s process can also extract hydrogen from natural gas.

Interesting! Natural gas is already the the primary source of the global hydrogen supply today, and natural gas stakeholders are eyeballing the hydrogen fuel cell market as a growth area. Things could get pretty desperate for them as renewables push natural gas out of the power generation picture, so the big push is on.

Good luck with that. Just take a look over at the auto industry for some ideas on the future of natural gas as a source of hydrogen for fuel cells. Automakers are beginning to push coal out of steelmaking with an assist from green hydrogen, sourced from water with renewable energy. Having gone through all that trouble, it’s not likely that automakers would enthusiastically embrace the idea of using a natural gas byproduct in their sparkling green fuel cell vehicles. That goes double for climate-savvy fleet managers and other vehicle buyers.

Hyzon is a perfect example. The company recently spun out of a Singapore-based fuel cell firm called Horizon Fuel Cell Technologies, which launched back in 2003 when green hydrogen was just a twinkle in somebody’s eye. Now Hyzon is counting on Raven to provide green hydrogen for its fuel cell heavy duty vehicles.

Wait, What Is Hyzon?

Hyzon Motors is new to the CleanTechnica radar, having surfaced last year when it announced a new fuel cell bus and truck venture. The company has a footprint in Europe, Singapore, Australia, and China in addition to the US. That’s of interest from a green hydrogen perspective because both Europe and Australia have emerged as hotspots for sustainable hydrogen, with Europe focusing on fuel cell locomotives as well as on-road vehicles.

Singapore still appears to be leaning on hydrogen sourced from natural gas, though a new fuel cell cargo ship venture with Shell could bring green hydrogen into the picture, considering the company’s emerging interest in the renewable hydrogen field.

China is home base for the leading oil refiner Sinopec, which is leaning firmly on natural gas to dig itself out of the petroleum hole.  However, Reuters reports that Sinopec is beginning to dabble in renewable hydrogen, too.

It looks like Hyzon is not letting the green hydrogen grass grow under its feet, and it is zeroing squarely in on the fleet management area. Last week the firm launched something called the Hyzon Zero Carbon Alliance with the aim of mobilizing “fleet operators and industry to forge partnerships that create viable ecosystems and lifecycle solutions to accelerate the adoption of hydrogen vehicles worldwide.”

Initial collaborators are Ark Energy (a subsidiary of Korea Zinc), AXA, Bank of America, Hiringa Energy, Modern Group, NEOM, ReCarbon, and Total, along with Raven.

A quick skim of the partners makes it clear that if natural gas is part of the picture, not for long. Ark is involved in the Austalia’s SunHQ renewable hydrogen project for decarbonizing the zinc industry, Bank of America is all over green hydrogen like white on rice, Hyringa is a New Zealand company that specializes in green hydrogen, and so on.

Total is another legacy oil and gas firm eyeballing green hydrogen as a way out of the fossil energy mess. Earlier this year Total announced a deal with Engie to build the largest electrolyzer in France so far.

Then there’s Neom, the lead project in Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s plans for diversifying the economy of Saudi Arabia. The project is billed as the future clean tech capital of the world including green hydrogen among a raft of other angles, and it is moving forward despite certain political complications.

If natural gas stakeholders hope to gain a foothold in the global hydrogen economy, they better not look back. Something is already gaining on them.

Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.

Image: Courtesy of Raven SR.

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Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.


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