The dust has settled over the final selection of winning projects in the new US Clean Hydrogen Hubs program, and now the real fight begins. All eyes are on Texas, where green hydrogen stakeholders are already jockeying for opportunities to push fossil-sourced hydrogen out of the picture. That should make for some interesting goings-on, especially now that the Japanese firm INPEX has thrown the sustainable H2 gauntlet down right in ExxonMobil’s own backyard.
Texas Leads On Renewable Energy, No, Really
From a policy perspective that may seem somewhat odd, considering recent attempts to obstruct renewable energy investment by the Republican-led state legislature and other high profile officials. However, policymakers were singing a different about 10 years ago, when a new, renewables-friendly transmission plan kicked into gear.
Helping matters along is the state’s unique status as a grid unto itself. Other states can share transmission connections to help each other smooth out bumps in local generation capacity and assist with emergencies. In contrast, almost the entire state of Texas is isolated into its own grid. The island effect has hard-wired the state’s grid operator, ERCOT, into seeking new in-state opportunities to build more resilience and reliability into the grid, and that means more wind, solar, and energy storage.
Green Hydrogen Rising In Texas
With all this in mind, it’s no surprise that green hydrogen has caught the eye of investors, energy planners, and even some public officials in Texas.
Green hydrogen primarily refers to hydrogen pushed from water in an electrolysis system, which deploys a catalyst and an electrical current generated by renewables (see lots more coverage here).
In terms of sustainability, that’s a sea change from the dominant source of hydrogen today, which deploys a steam reformation process to draw hydrogen from natural gas or coal.
About 95% of hydrogen production in the US comes from natural gas, and ExxonMobil appears determined to keep it that way. On October 11, just two days before the Energy Department announced its selection of the winning Clean Hydrogen Hubs projects, ExxonMobil sent out word that it is doubling down on its shale gas interests in the lucrative Permian Basin fields, in Texas.
As if to clap back, on October 12 — just one day before the Energy Department announcement — INPEX Corporation put its seal of approval on a press release that describes the latest development in a major sustainable H2 venture in Texas undertaken by the firm Green Hydrogen International:
“INPEX CORPORATION (INPEX), Japan’s largest oil and gas exploration and production company, and Green Hydrogen International (GHI), the world leader in green hydrogen developments, have signed a Joint Study Agreement to advance GHI’s flagship Hydrogen City production hub in South Texas with the aim of producing green hydrogen and green ammonia to meet growing Asian and global market demand.”
If you’re wondering why one leading oil and gas company can diversify into renewable energy while another one can’t, that’s a good question. Many other legacy fossil energy stakeholder have begun their renewable energy journey over the past 10 years or so, but ExxonMobil has continued to focus on natural gas and petrochemicals.
The only significant renewable energy project promoted by ExxonMobil during this time is — or rather, was — an on-again, off-again algae biofuel R&D program, which the company finally dropped earlier this year, ostensibly forever.
(Green) Hydrogen City, USA
As the home state of Hydrogen City, Texas will be the host to a massive energy storage project as well as a green hydrogen and ammonia plant.
While some of the green hydrogen will be available for local markets, the main plan is to dedicate about 230,000 tons of green hydrogen per year to produce 1 million tons of green ammonia per year, destined for overseas markets that are eager to replace fossil-sourced ammonia fertilizer and other products with a more sustainable supply chain. (for those of you new to the topic, ammonia — NH3 — consists of three hydrogen atoms and one atom of nitrogen, which can be sourced from ambient air).
That’s just for starters. Plans are already in the works to expand the facility as customer demand accelerates, apparently in the area of rocket fuel among other uses. In the meantime, GHI expects to have the first phase up and running by 2029, complete with a salt cavern storage facility to ensure a steady supply of wind and solar power from the South Texas region.
GHI expects the combination of low cost renewable energy and the use of natural salt formations will enable it to build “one of the world’s largest production and export hubs with the most cost-competitive green hydrogen in the world.”
On its part, INPEX will contribute its experience in developing large scale energy projects to shepherd Hydrogen City through construction. The company also expects to convince its roster of liquid natural gas clients that green ammonia is the wave of the future.
In the October 12 press release, INPEX President and CEO Takayuki Ueda took note of his company’s pivot into renewables.
“This project perfectly aligns with our Vision@2022, as we strive to reshape the energy landscape by producing green hydrogen and accelerating the transition to a sustainable, carbon-neutral world. INPEX’s dedication to a brighter, greener future remains steadfast, and this endeavor in Texas marks a pivotal step in our vision for a more sustainable tomorrow,” he said.
Meanwhile, Over In The Laboratory…
Fossil energy stakeholders like ExxonMobil can still leverage low-cost natural gas to hold back the rising tide of green hydrogen, but not for long.
The Texas-based organization HyVelocity is one of the winning Hydrogen Hub proposals to include both gas and alternative sources in its plan, and it looks like gas stakeholders are in for a fight. The group of industry partners spearheading the HyVelocity collaboration is a mixed bag of both fossil energy and green H2 stakeholders. ExxonMobil is in the mix, but so are Ørsted, Mitsubishi, and other legacy firms pivoting into green hydrogen.
In addition, new and improved electrolyzers helping to drive down the cost of electrolysis, while R&D work continues apace on even better, more efficient systems.
As may be expected, Texas has emerged as a hotspot of electrolyzer innovation. Last week, Texas A&M University reported on a new study undertaken by one of its research teams, led by chemical engineering professor Dr. Abdoulaye Djire.
You can read all about it in the journal Cell. For those of you on the go, Djire worked with graduate student David Kumar Yesudoss and materials science and engineering professor Dr. Miladin Radovic to deploy a new catalyst based on a class of 2D-layered materials called Mxenes.
Mxenes caught the CleanTechnica eye back in 2013 as applied to EV batteries and we haven’t been following along since then, so it seems that we missed a lot.
The A&M team was looking for a low-cost replacement for the expensive platinum catalysts typically used in electrolysis systems.
“Using these inexpensive catalysts instead of platinum will significantly reduce the cost of the resulting hydrogen technology,” Djire explained.
“My work is centered around designing and evaluating materials to be used as catalysts for sustainable chemical production,” Yesudoss added. “We have been able to reduce the cost of catalysts that are used in producing green hydrogen by half, which I think is really significant.”
For the record, graduate student Ekenedilichukwu Uwadiunor and undergraduate student Hoang Nguyen from the Artie McFerrin Department of Chemical Engineering at Texas A&M, along with graduate students Vrushali Kotastane and Eugenie Pranda from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Texas A&M, and Dr. Kingsley Obodo from HySa Infrastructure at North-West University in South Africa, also collaborated on the project.
Of course, no story about green hydrogen would be complete without a mention of Republican antics in the House of Representatives. The Republican majority has been running around like a headless chicken in search of a free lunch ever since October 4, when they fired their Speaker.
Without a Speaker, the House can’t fulfill its normal duties of government under the Constitution of the United States of America, which means that Republicans in the House have all but finished what they started on January 6, when 139 of them voted in support of an effort to prevent President-elect Joe Biden from taking office.
Well, Joe Biden took office, only now his hands are tied because the Republican House majority literally refuses to function normally under his administration. At least this time around a bloodthirsty mob of white supremacists is not involved, though it’s anyone’s guess what happens next.
Meanwhile, several Republican Senators have also joined in the de facto insurrection against the Biden administration, led by Tommy Tuberville of Alabama, who has single-handedly slammed the lid on hundreds of military promotions. Republican Senators Rand Paul (Kentucky), JD Vance (Ohio), and Ted Cruz (Texas) also chipped in by shutting down key State Department appointments.
If you have any thoughts about that, drop us a note in the comment thread.
Image: Massive new green hydrogen facility planned for Texas (image courtesy of GHI via prnewswire.com).
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