By Kevin Killough, State Energy Reporter
Focus Clean Energy is planning a hydrogen production facility near Douglas. The Pronghorn Clean Hydrogen Hub is in the earliest planning stages, but the company’s founder, Paul Martin, said the facility will produce about 5 gigawatts of hydrogen production.
It will be located near Douglas, and Focus is partnering with a German wind turbine manufacturer, The Nordex Group, to power the facility with wind and solar energy. Using both forms of renewable energy will help smooth out some of the intermittency of the two.
Martin grew up in Idaho and now lives in Colorado, where Focus Clean Energy is based.
His mother is from Wyoming, and his great-grandfather taught math at Laramie High School for 40 years. He’s spent the last 16 years developing wind farms in the Cowboy State, including the Two Rivers Wind and Boswell Springs Wind projects. Combined, the projects will produce 600 megawatts of electricity, and they’re expected to go into construction next year. He’s also developing a third project near Medicine Bow, which is hoped to begin construction in the next few years.
After nearly two decades of developing wind farms, Martin said the biggest challenge facing Wyoming’s wind energy is the lack of transmission line capacity.
“The great frustration in my career as a developer of wholesale power in Wyoming has been inability to export and the timeframe that it takes to build these interstate transmission lines,” Martin told Cowboy State Daily.
Largely due to federal environmental regulations, it can take a decade or more to permit a transmission line, which runs the risk of stranding a lot of Wyoming’s wind resources, Martin said.
Wyoming exports 13 times more power than it consumes, according to the Energy Information Administration, so the state’s electricity production resources are dependent on markets in other states. Wyoming winds can produce a lot of power, but if it can’t be exported, it can’t be sold.
Hydrogen, however, could be transported by rail and pipeline, which means the product wouldn’t face the export barriers that electrical generation from wind, solar, coal and natural gas is facing.
“It just opens up the opportunity for economic development in Wyoming pretty dramatically, especially because hydrogen, in general, has so many different ways to produce it,” Martin said.
The H Rainbow
There’s a number of ways to produce hydrogen. The Pronghorn hub will use the electrolysis method, which uses electricity and specialized membranes to crack water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen.
The process is energy intensive and color codes are put on different sources of energy to denote how environmentally friendly the process is. When hydrogen is produced from water using wind and solar energy, it’s called green hydrogen, the most friendly type.
It is possible to use natural gas and water, which produces hydrogen and carbon dioxide. If the CO2 is captured and sequestered, the hydrogen is blue. If not, then it’s gray hydrogen.
Williams, an energy company that handles about a third of the natural gas in America, is using its existing infrastructure in Wamsutter for research into blue hydrogen production.
It’s also possible to use a process called pyrolysis to produce turquoise hydrogen, which produces hydrogen and solid carbon.
Another process uses coal to produce black hydrogen, and it’s possible to use nuclear power as the energy source for electrolysis, which produces pink hydrogen.
Focus Clean Energy is working with the Wyoming Energy Authority and applying for matching funds to make the project happen.
As it’s in the earliest planning stages, Martin said it might be 2030 before the project is producing hydrogen. Some details aren’t known yet and others are proprietary, but Martin is excited about the potential for hydrogen production in the state.
“It’s a relatively new thing for Wyoming, especially with regard to the idea that we are able to take Wyoming resources, process them in the state, add value to them and then export that,” Martin said.
Combined with cheap Wyoming wind power, Martin said the Pronghorn hub could become one of the cheapest sources of hydrogen in the county.