Governor plans major effort to turn NM into a “hydrogen center”

BayoTech is setting up its first hydrogen production unit, shown here, at the company’s headquarters in Albuquerque. Other units will be established at other sites across the country in the coming months. (Courtesy of BayoTech)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham wants New Mexico to become a leading national center for hydrogen development, with new framework legislation in the works for next year’s session.

Gov. and Secretary of the Environment James Kenney unveiled the initiative in a joint interview on Sept. 21 on the national podcast program “Everything About Hydrogen,” where Lujan Grisham touted New Mexico’s ability to “jump” d ‘other states in efforts to build a “clean hydrogen economy”.

The podcast, however, has raised concerns among local environmental organizations, which question whether the production and distribution of hydrogen really represents a “clean” alternative to fossil fuels. They fear that state and federal authorities are rushing to promote unproven and risky technology that could actually slow the transition to renewable resources by redirecting public and private sector investment away from the rapid development of solar, wind and solar technology. battery storage.

Hydrogen development is emerging as an important part of federal plans to help decarbonize everything from power generation and long-haul shipping to heavy industrial processes like steel and cement production over the past 30 years. coming years. It enjoys substantial bipartisan support in the US Congress, including an $ 8 billion federal grant proposal to build four first “hydrogen hubs” across the country.

These investments – plus $ 1 billion more for hydrogen “demonstration” projects – are included in President Joe Biden’s $ 1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, already approved by the US Senate and currently awaiting approval in the House.

Now Lujan Grisham wants to lay the groundwork for New Mexico to become one of the national hubs, establishing a legal framework to encourage public-private partnerships that can accelerate development. The new Hydrogen Hub Act, which the Department of the Environment and other state agencies are finalizing, would establish legal provisions to regulate the new industry, while providing investors with legal stability and certainty. which they need for long-term commitments, said Lujan Grisham.

“This will be our signing act” in the next session, Lujan Grisham said on the podcast. “… Businesses need predictability. They want to understand exactly where we are, where we are going and what these rules are so that as they invest, innovate and hire, they know it’s sustainable.

New Mexico is uniquely positioned to build a local hydrogen hub, the governor added.

It has abundant reserves of natural gas that can be used, at least initially, to extract the methane needed to produce hydrogen, she said. And it has a vast existing energy infrastructure, such as pipeline systems and transmission lines, as well as a skilled workforce that can be quickly retrained from traditional fossil fuel production to fuel operations. clean hydrogen.

“We believe there is limitless potential,” said Lujan Grisham. “I mean, if you just look at our current energy industry… you’re talking about tens of thousands of jobs for a state of 2 million people. This is huge, both in terms of converting current jobs so as not to lose them, and in terms of creating future jobs.

These statements, however, sparked strong reactions from the local environmental community, which has great reservations about the use of hydrogen to decarbonise the energy industry or other sectors of the economy.

This is because most current developments focus on the production of “blue hydrogen,” which uses steam methane reform, or SMR, to extract hydrogen from natural gas methane, as well as the capture technology. carbon to sequester emissions.

This is a significant advance over the production of “gray” hydrogen today, which also uses SMR to separate hydrogen from methane or other fossil fuels, but without carbon capture to sequester them. emissions.

Environmentalists, however, say carbon capture is an emerging technology that has yet to be successfully deployed on a commercial hydrogen plant. They question how much carbon can actually be captured in the process, and they question the wisdom or effectiveness of subsequent sequestration of captured carbon in underground geological formations.

Similar efforts to equip coal-fired power plants with carbon capture have sparked near universal opposition among environmental groups, who see it as an indefinite perpetuation of coal-based production rather than replacing this aging and highly polluting technology with renewable resources.

Likewise, environmentalists believe that blue hydrogen will prolong natural gas production indefinitely, with no proven guarantees that emissions will be fully captured in the SMR process, nor during industrial operations to extract natural gas from the ground, process it and transport it to hydrogen plants.

In contrast, most environmentalists favor the potential future deployment of “green hydrogen,” which, unlike blue, relies exclusively on electricity from renewable resources like wind and sun to separate oxygen molecules and of hydrogen in water in a process called electrolysis. This technology has no carbon emissions.

But it’s still expensive, and until costs come down, it’s unlikely to see widespread deployment in the industry for a decade or more. Moreover, even if deployed in New Mexico, green production would require enormous amounts of fresh water, putting scarce water resources at risk in an arid state already facing chronic drought due to climate change.

Rather than pursuing a hydrogen economy, most environmental organizations advocate the large-scale development of renewable resources like solar, wind and battery storage, said Camilla Feibelman, Sierra Club Rio section director. Big.

“We have to be careful when there is such hype around a technology, especially technology that in many ways has not been tested and proven to work,” Feibelman told the Newspaper. “We are concerned that this trend towards a ‘hydrogen economy’ is locking us into increased use of fossil fuels.”

But Lujan Grisham and Environment Secretary Kenney say New Mexico and the nation must harness every tool available to rapidly decarbonize the large-scale economy over the next two decades. And hydrogen offers a way to clean up carbon emissions in industries such as heavy-duty trucking and long-haul shipping, as well as industrial processes such as steel and cement production that cannot easily be used. renewable electricity to reduce emissions.

Using hydrogen to generate electricity can also strengthen the grid as the country becomes heavily dependent on intermittent production of solar and wind power. And for New Mexico, which already has the natural resources and energy infrastructure to facilitate a rapid transition to hydrogen, building a local hub allows the state to turn its abundant natural gas into a source of energy. “clean” energy, while preserving jobs and creating new ones.

It can provide an essential ‘bridge’ in the transition to a clean energy future, said Lujan Grisham.

“Hydrogen is the only productive and clear path where you use what can usually be a problem – methane, natural gas – and capture it so that you invest in a much cleaner, more reliable source of energy that allows us to to build that transition, ”Governor said on the podcast.

On concerns about carbon capture and sequestration, the governor said many entities “don’t quite understand” the technology.

“I think it has become a kind of rallying point for and against having a movement in the energy sector,” said Lujan Grisham. “But you have states that are really looking at it now – Texas, Wyoming, and Nevada.”

New Mexico officials are coordinating closely with the US Department of Energy on future legislation to ensure the legal framework here coincides with emerging federal standards for the production, distribution, and consumption of hydrogen. This may pave the way for New Mexico to tap into the $ 8 billion proposed for hydrogen hubs, along with other federal aid, to accelerate development, the governor said.

“Using the power and expertise of the DOE at the federal level increases the ability of states to be incredibly successful as we innovate and deliver hydrogen strategies,” said Lujan Grisham.

The New Mexico congressional delegation, particularly Senator Martin Heinrich, is actively seeking federal funding for hydrogen development in general, while specifically promoting New Mexico’s leadership in building the industry. In August, for example, DOE Secretary Jennifer Granholm visited the state at Heinrich’s invitation, visited businesses, and met with officials in Albuquerque and Farmington to learn about local initiatives in the matter. of hydrogen.

New Mexico has yet to continue developing solar, wind and other renewable resources, but there is no “one size fits all” approach to the clean energy transition, Heinrich said.

“I work at the federal level to make sure important environmental issues and concerns are addressed,” Heinrich told the Journal in an email. “As we continue to work to meet our clean hydrogen goals, it is essential that we put in place the necessary safeguards to ensure that we have a responsible path forward that meets our action goals. climate and maintain our trajectory towards a zero carbon economy. “

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