Get Big Pivots

by Allen Best

A partnership has been struck that is expected to yield a hydrogen fueling station along Interstate 25 in Denver’s southern suburbs by late 2022 or early 2023.

AAA Colorado has promised to have a tow truck and two support vehicles, such as are used for battery charging or to replace flat tires, equipped to run on hydrogen.

New Day Hydrogen, a Colorado-based company, plans to create the fueling station at one of AAA’s locations, either Centennial or Lone Tree. Including the AAA vehicles, the company expects to provide fuel for 5 to 10 light- and medium-duty vehicles to begin this pilot project. A hydrogen fueling station is also being created in Fort Collins at the Powerhouse Energy Campus associated with Colorado State University.

Hydrogen represents a potential fuel for decarbonizing transportation, which has become the No. 1 source of carbon emissions in Colorado and many other states. Batteries are on the cusp of rapidly replacing internal combustion engines in the cars and other light vehicles found at most homes. But batteries have a significant disadvantage that proponents say hydrogen may not, as costs fall and infrastructure such as the fueling station planned in metro Denver come on-line.

The Colorado Greenhouse Gas Pollution Reduction Roadmap that was released in January mentions hydrogen 14 times, but suggests that hydrogen—like other energy technologies such as carbon-capture and long-duration energy storage—will require further technical innovation and economies of scale to bring costs down and allow deployment at scale.

See also: Will green hydrogen research at Craig be part of answer to the big question? 

Fueling infrastructure will also matter. “As zero emissions vehicle truck technologies, including electrification and hydrogen fuel cells proliferate, their success will depend on a robust network of charging and fueling infrastructure,” the roadmap says. “Developing infrastructure to support zero emission vehicles in medium and heavy-duty fleets is critical to their success…”

The Colorado Energy Office is working on a hydrogen roadmap that is expected to be released in October. The study is to examine the opportunities, barriers and the potential steps to overcome them, and economic potential of low-carbon hydrogen. SB 21-260, Colorado’s massive transportation bill passed by legislators in June, mentions hydrogen 10 times but provides no funding.

New Day Hydrogen wants to fill the role of “seeding the hydrogen market in Colorado by integrating infrastructure development with commercial EV use,” the company website says.

The company is led by Seth Terry, who has a Ph.D. from the Colorado School of Mines and a master’s degree in business from Regis University. Patricia Kelley, the chief legal officer and director of business development, has a law degree from Harvard.

Kelley explains that the company wants to produce only green hydrogen.

“We crack hydrogen from a water molecule with an oxygen by-product, and the only emission is water vapor,” she says. In Colorado, this process can produce hydrogen at rates competitive with diesel—which is not true in California, where there’s a push to make hydrogen viable in transportation.

“We can do this because Colorado electricity rates for solar and wind are excellent,” she says.

The company also has several projects in the works that will provide hydrogen in electrical micro-grids, converting gas turbine power plants to plants that produce hydrogen, and using hydrogen as a process to recover curtailed wind and solar power. Those projects, she says, are both in Colorado and elsewhere.

AAA Colorado is partnering with New Hydrogen Day because it sees limitations with batteries.

“Nobody has come up with the prefect solution for fleets,” says Skyler McKinley, public affairs director for AAA Colorado. The parent organization, AAA, has 14 million members in 14 states and one Canadian province.

“For Colorado to meet its carbon reduction goals, there’s not a silver bullet,” he says. “We cannot replace every internal combustion engine on the road with batteries—nor with hydrogen.”

McKinley expects to have a place along with “other technologies that have not been identified yet.” AAA hopes to see federal and other funding opportunities to pay for the cost of this hydrogen pilot project.

New Day Hydrogen’s Kelley similarly sees conceivably insurmountable problems from battery electric technology.

Their weight poses problems for heavier vehicles.

“Batteries have to weigh 6,000 to 8,000 pounds to drive medium- and heavy-duty trucks,” she says. “The size/weight problem, as well as time for charging, means that fleets will not move to battery-electrical vehicles.”

Kelley also sees problems in the light duty market. She cites the charging problems for those living in apartments and who park on streets, not in garages, and those who drive on steep inclines, such as are found in mountainous areas.

And while fast-charging has become easier and, well, faster, too, it does diminish battery capacity.

Then there is the challenge of delivering enough electricity to the grid to support massive transition.

“After a certain number of vehicles are on the road, the grid won’t be able to handle it, and of course, the life of the batteries is impacted by fast charging,” she says.

“For example, 6 Tesla vehicles fast-charging at the same time last summer browned out Glenwood Springs. Battery EVs (I have one myself) are ideal for those that do not have to travel far and can slowly charge their vehicles in their garages overnight. I can go grocery shopping and run errands and charge each night, and it works beautifully for me,” she says.

Photo courtesy of National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Allen Best
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