A recent study out from Stanford and Cornell universities claims that blue hydrogen production releases more greenhouse gases than simply burning natural gas. But the study looks at an out-dated process for producing blue hydrogen, the CEO of a company that plans to start a blue hydrogen hub in North Dakota says.

“Not many companies that are actually intending to do clean hydrogen from natural gas want to use steam methods,” Bakken Energy CEO Mike Hopkins told the Williston Herald’s Energy Chaser. “It’s a very old process. It does have absolute limitations as to just how much carbon you can capture. And it’s quite energy inefficient. So it’s got the two burdens of being energy efficient and very limiting in the ability to capture carbon.”

North Dakota’s hydrogen hub, on the other hand, will use an entirely different and newer process, auto thermal reforming.

“It’s not commonly used for the production of clean hydrogen because of the capital costs,” Hopkins explained. “It’s not so much the capital cost of the authothermal reforming. It’s the fact that you’d need an air separation unit. In the case of the Dakota Gasification plant, because of how it has operated as a gasification plant, it already has a perfectly good air separation unit.”

Once operational, the company estimates it will be capturing 95 percent of carbon emissions for its blue hydrogen — taking 6 million tons of carbon out of the annual emissions stream or the equivalent of removing a million cars from the road.

(It’s) absolutely comparable to what would be done with renewables,” Hopkins said.

The process will also be very cost effective as well, thanks to the pre-existing air separation unit and the other infrastructure.

“It’s going to be, I’ll call it 1/6 of the cost of hydrogen produced from renewables,” Hopkins said. “Much lower than if we were just using the traditional steam methane reforming process, which is less efficient and more limiting when it comes to carbon.”

Blue hydrogen has a place in the grand scheme of things, Hopkins believes, when it comes to decarbonizing the economy.

“People are seeing that there are real limits to just how far you can go, how quickly you can go, how big you can go, if the only way you can decarbonize is to keep bringing renewables and energy storage onto the grid,” Hopkins said.

Battery-stored power won’t work well for energy intense operations like airplanes, trucking, the cement industry, and shipping containers, because it would require too many batteries.

“(A) tanker would be nothing but batteries,” Hopkins said. “There’d be nothing for the actual containers.”

Clean hydrogen can help those industries decarbonize, but the cost of “green” hydrogen produced solely through renewables is very expensive right now. It won’t likely be ready for widespread adoption for years.

Blue hydrogen, meanwhile, offers a way to more quickly and cost-effectively start moving the needle on carbon emissions. And the necessary hydrogen infrastructure can be built alongside it, in ways that are economically feasible, which is also vital if the goal is to make a quick shift.

“I am certainly a supporter of clean hydrogen made using an electrolyzer from water using renewable power. It’s certainly not carbon free, but it’s extremely low carbon,” Hopkins said. “So it’s good in that sense. I think it’s practical limitation is that, at this point in time, it’s so expensive to produce hydrogen that way.”

Using low-cost, clean, blue hydrogen sooner, rather than later, will also spur innovations, Hopkins believes, which will ultimately build a stronger future for everyone.

“To me it’s an opportunity to actually get it going, like, get people to adopt it and get people innovating, not just to like use this clean hydrogen instead of conventional hydrogen, but start thinking well, if it’s really that low cost, if you can make it that low cost, what are all the other things that you can do with it that people haven’t even thought about?”

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