North Dakota has inherent advantages in the race to build out hydrogen hubs, Mitsubishi Power Americas’ President and CEO Paul Browning told a crowd in Bismarck Wednesday afternoon. They were there to hear the announcement of a deal that could set North Dakota up as the largest and lowest cost producer of clean hydrogen fuel in North America.
Browning is fresh off a deal inked just two weeks ago that will help decarbonize the city of Los Angeles, he said during his remarks. He also has partnerships in place from Utah to Texas, and parts in between, that he envisions taking decarbonized hydrogen to all of North America.
The possibility he envisions in North Dakota is a world-class, blue hydrogen hub that produces, stores, transports, and consumes clean hydrogen, located at the Great Plains Synfuels Plant located near Beulah, North Dakota. The plant would be redeveloped and ultimately connected by pipeline to the clean hydrogen network Mitsubishi is working on across North America.
The deal is still being negotiated, Paul Sukut with Basin Electric was careful to stress, but, he, too, is very excited about the potential for extending not just the life of the Synfuels plant, but jobs for its innovative and dedicated team of workers.
“It’s an amazing facility,” he said. “It truly is a giant chem set on the prairie.”
People have come along over the years and suggested one or another carbon-based fuel for that giant chem set, he added. Jet fuel. Methanol. Sulfur-free diesel.
“It’s amazing to me today we’re standing up here and talking about taking that hydrocarbon fuels plant and turning it into a carbon-free plant,” he said.
The timeline, Bakken Energy CEO Mike Hopkins said, is to complete due diligence and come to commercial terms by this summer, and target a financial close by the end of the year. Work could begin on the plant, which Basin Electric acquired from the Department of energy in 1988. The gasification plant was built in 1984 in response to the 1970s energy crisis, to make natural gas from lignite. If an agreement with Basin Electric can’t be worked out, officials said the project would still move ahead.
North Dakota has abundant supplies of natural gas, which are used to make blue hydrogen. If the deal comes to fruition, it would position the state’s oil and gas industry as a very large and essential component in making a low-carbon world work.
Blue hydrogen is made by splitting hydrogen out of methane, leaving behind carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide removed in the blue hydrogen process could be sequestered underground or used for other purposes, such as mining more natural gas and oil. Most of the carbon dioxide used for enhanced oil recovery remains underground, researchers have said. North Dakota’s Energy and Environmental Research Center is also doing research to further solidify and verify that conclusion.
Blue hydrogen is different from green hydrogen. The latter is generally created where there is an excess of renewable power from wind or solar, as a way of storing that power for later use.
Steven Lebow, founder of Bakken Energy (formerly Bakken Midstream Natural Gas), which is a partner in the deal, said he envisions blue hydrogen one day being used to fuel planes and trains, as well as semi-trucks, and perhaps even, eventually, small cars.
The latter is already happening in other countries, Lebow added, and scarcely a day goes by that a newspaper somewhere in the world doesn’t mention the potential for hydrogen.
“Take Korea today. Go on Google and look up Korea,” he said. “Korea is redoing Korea.”
That includes hydrogen cars and hydrogen stations to go with them. And Korea isn’t the only country doing that, Lebow added. Japan and countries in Europe are as well.
“From the beginning our company has been dedicated to optimal development and stewardship of North Dakota’s energy resources. We are a company of innovators and doers that make things happen in a big way,” he said. “The State of North Dakota along with Gov. Burgum and Lt. Gov. Sanford have been champions for businesses that want to reimagine and reinvent what is possible for their state. We couldn’t have gotten this far without the unfailing support of this administration.”
Gov. Doug Burgum, meanwhile, said the partnership between Mitsubishi, Bakken Energy, and Basin Electric represents the power of innovation over regulation. It also represents a significant step in making the state carbon neutral by 2030, a challenge the governor announced during the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference in May.
“We also know that we’re moving ahead with great projects on injecting CO2 for enhanced oil recovery, and some of those announcements were made at the Petroleum Conference as well,” Burgum said. “We know that we could be storing carbon for ethanol plants in underground formations in North Dakota. We know that we could be putting pure streams of carbon in the future greenhouses to help enhance plant growth. We know that we can have best management practices in agriculture which will help to store carbon in our soils and build our range lands, and dozens of other innovative projects and practices.”
North Dakota has the ability to store more than 250 billion tons of carbon dioxide safely in its underground rock formations, deep within the Bakken, Burgum said. That would take care of North Dakota’s annual carbon dioxide output for 8,400 years.
That obviously leaves a lot of room for carbon storage from out-of-state sources, the governor added.
“One of the ways we’re setting ourselves apart is with our massive storage space coupled with a policy framework that allows innovation,” he said.