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Mountain West states court federal money to create regional hydrogen hub

Volvo truck with tanker carrying liquid hydrogen
Mike Mareen
Adobe Stock
A Volvo truck with a tanker carrying liquid hydrogen.

Federal officials are encouraging four Mountain West states to jointly apply for funding to develop more hydrogen energy infrastructure in the region. Wyoming, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah have partnered up to create the Western Interstate Hydrogen Hub and in November submitted preliminary plans to compete for federal dollars.

Hydrogen is the simplest and most abundant element on earth. It's usually made using natural gas, but there are other methods that emit very little CO2. When burned, its only byproduct is water, which means it has the potential to produce zero-emission energy. It’s also incredibly versatile, according to Brian Schath with the New Mexico Environment Department.

“It's a combustible gas, and so there's a lot of different opportunities for you to create energy that you can't just throw a battery on,” Schath said.

Schath points to steel manufacturing, fertilizer production and cement processing as areas where clean hydrogen could be particularly useful. Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are currently available on the market.

The growth potential and climate implications of growing the hydrogen industry prompted the Biden administration to allocate $7 billion to create “clean hydrogen hubs” across the country. States will submit their full applications by early April and selected projects are expected to be announced earlier this summer. Schath called the proposal from the four Mountain West states an extremely strong candidate for funding. The U.S. Department of Energy gave a positive review of the Western Interstate Hydrogen Hub's preliminary concept paper submitted in the fall.

“We’re probably the people to beat at this point,” Schath said.

Glen Murrell, director of the Wyoming Energy Authority, said the region has a number of key attributes the federal government is looking for, including existing energy infrastructure, a knowledgeable workforce and a diverse set of industries that can produce and consume hydrogen. Rather than one massive “hub” or location where hydrogen is being produced, the Intermountain West’s application proposes an “infrastructure network of production, transportation and consumption,” Murrell said.

“It's really about realizing our strengths, and mitigating our weaknesses,” he said. “We can produce hydrogen here in Wyoming, transport it into the Front Range – to the Denver area – and have the consumption piece there.”

Hydrogen is by no means a silver bullet to the climate crisis. Since the majority of hydrogen used today is created using fossil fuels, it emits lots of carbon dioxide. Murrell said the technology to create, transport and consume the energy source still needs to be improved, but he thinks investing in the infrastructure now will pay dividends down the road.

“There's the immediate benefits, which you could consider in terms of actual capital deployment,” he said. “But over the long-term – and in a world where people want low emissions energy – there are timescales to consider, and we take the long view. We're looking forward to this being an opportunity to really secure and sustain the Wyoming energy economy overall.”

The Department of Energy encouraged 32 other projects across the country to proceed with their applications. Funding comes from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law passed in 2021, and is part of the Biden administration’s initiative to achieve a net-zero carbon economy by 2050.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Will Walkey is currently a reporter for Wyoming Public Radio. Through 2023, Will was WPR's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. He first arrived in Wyoming in 2020, where he covered Teton County for KHOL 89.1 FM in Jackson. His work has aired on NPR and numerous member stations throughout the Rockies, and his story on elk feedgrounds in Western Wyoming won a regional Murrow award in 2021.
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