SARTA seeks to build support for hydrogen hub in Ohio
February 17, 2022
CANTON – The Stark Area Regional Transit Authority is part of a new alliance seeking a $2 billion federal grant to help build a hydrogen industry hub in the region.
The public agency — which uses hydrogen to fuel some of its bus fleet — banded together with about 62 other organizations and government leaders last month to form the Ohio Clean Energy Hub Alliance and begin pushing for the concept.
The goal is to provide a cleaner energy source with no or little carbon emissions and to create of tens of thousands of jobs in an area that could encompass Ohio, western Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
The U.S. Department of Energy this week began seeking feedback on how to allocate $8 billion to fund at least four clean hydrogen energy hubs throughout the country. The hubs would be areas or regions where the federal government would invest the money, hoping to spark the development of a clean energy hydrogen industry that doesn’t contribute to climate change. Such a hub would be close to an energy source that would eventually include emerging industries for generation, storage and transportation to the end users.
At least one hub would be based on extracting hydrogen from a fossil fuel, which can include natural gas; one from nuclear power; and one from renewable energy sources.
One of the goals is to reduce the cost of hydrogen, which powers fuel cells, down to $1 a kilogram within a decade. SARTA now pays roughly $6 to $10 a kilogram for its 20 hydrogen vehicles.
SARTA says a kilogram of hydrogen provides roughly the equivalent of a gallon of diesel. The ultimate federal goals are a carbon-free electrical grid by 2035 and a carbon-free emission economy by 2050.
The $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill approved by Congress and signed into law by President Joe Biden in November authorized the new grant program.
LAUNCHING AN ALLIANCE
SARTA Executive Director Kirt Conrad and Andrew Thomas, the director of energy policy at Cleveland State University, began having discussions early last month about organizing an alliance of companies, governments and institutes in Ohio to seek the funding.
Within a month, they recruited about 60 partners, which now include Dominion Energy, city of Canton, Stark County Commissioner Richard Regula, Carroll County Chamber of Commerce, scientific research institute Battelle in Columbus, Kent State University, energy technologies company Babcock & Wilcox in Akron, Halliburton, Ohio Turnpike Commission, Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce, Columbus Chamber of Commerce, Travel Centers of America and the Stark Economic Development Board. They also set up a website for the alliance.
Conrad said it was important that they move quickly because other states like New York, New Mexico and Kentucky already declared that they were seeking the funding.
“It is important for us to move forward,” he said. “If we don’t do it, it’s going to be somewhere else and the benefits won’t be here.”
Conrad said alliance members had a conference call Tuesday immediately after the U.S. Department of Energy issued its request for information. They are working on determining who would draft the alliance’s responses.
The Department of Energy is asking for the public to respond to its request for ideas and information on a hydrogen hubs implementation strategy by March 8. The department is also seeking ideas and information on clean hydrogen manufacturing, recycling and electrolysis by March 29. Alliance members may submit their own responses.
SARTA expects the Department of Energy to begin soliciting grant applications by mid-May.
SARTA WOULD BENEFIT
Conrad said if the Department of Energy provides a $2 billion grant to establish a hydrogen hub in the region that includes Stark County, SARTA would be among the first transit systems to get access to lower cost hydrogen, reducing the cost to taxpayers for maintaining the bus system.
SARTA also would be in a good position to be the transit system that would demonstrate the experimental use of any new hydrogen fuel cell technology. In addition, being located in a region covered by a hydrogen hub would help SARTA in its applications for more federal money to buy more hydrogen-powered vehicles.
SARTA began its transition to hydrogen vehicles in 2016. It says it has the only publicly-available hydrogen fueling station in Ohio, which is at SARTA’s headquarters in Canton.
Conrad said the alliance is seeking new partners such as private companies and organizations that could contribute expertise, experience, connections and funding.
“What we’re trying to do ultimately is create a hydrogen ecosystem and infrastructure. Part of that is educating the public, educating stakeholders, educating politicians. The public facing part is trying to position Ohio as competitively as possible when we finally file that (grant) proposal,” Conrad said.
He added that he’s already spoken with U.S. Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Lakeville, about the alliance. Members also have reached out to Ohio’s two U.S. senators, Gov. Mike DeWine’s administration, JobsOhio and leaders in the Ohio General Assembly.
The grants will require a 100% match, said Thomas, much of which he anticipated being put up by private companies or investors.
Conrad said the alliance has begun preliminary discussions with officials in West Virginia and western Pennsylvania to combine forces to make a joint application to establish a hub in a territory that would include the three states.
The existence of the Utica and Marcellus shales, with large quantities of natural gas, in eastern Ohio, western Pennsylvania and West Virginia would give the region much of a leg up on the competition for the funding. Thomas said the hydrogen is made using the natural gas methane.
Ohio also has several industries, which could be end users of hydrogen energy, said Thomas. In addition, the state has some natural gas pipelines with a limited capability to transport hydrogen gas.
The hydrogen industry is in the “very early stage (in Ohio) but not as early stage as it is in other states,” said Thomas, who studies how to expand the commercialization of hydrogen power.
But, “we don’t have a well-established way of moving hydrogen from the generation point to the consumption point. … We have a cheap source of hydrogen for generation and we have an appetite of end users in Ohio for consumption. What we’re missing is connecting those two together.”
While hydrogen fuel cell vehicles do not have carbon dioxide emissions, Thomas said the technology is currently not totally clean. The manufacturer emits carbon dioxide in manufacturing hydrogen from methane. Currently, SARTA gets its hydrogen from Air Products Canada in Sarnia, Ontario. And the trucks that transport the hydrogen to SARTA from Canada have carbon emissions.
Thomas envisions the construction of large facilities to reclaim steam from the process of making hydrogen. As well as the construction of large storage facilities for hydrogen, some perhaps underground with pipelines to transport hydrogen and facilities at ports and train hubs to load the hydrogen onto ships and trains for shipping. That’s in addition to a network of hydrogen refueling stations and zero-emission trucks powered by hydrogen, which he believes is a better technology to power heavy trucks than electric batteries.
Thomas said companies to make the process emission free will have to figure out what to do with the carbon dioxide that’s a byproduct of the hydrogen manufacturing process. Either by using the carbon to make urea, which is a chemical used in the chemical and fertilizer industries; containing the carbon in the ground; or putting the carbon into products like concrete. Besides from fracking methane, the source of gas to make hydrogen could come from landfills or biomass waste, he said.
Another option is using electricity powered by solar, wind or nuclear power to extract hydrogen from water using electrolysis.
Conrad said he’s aware of a group in northwestern Ohio seeking to establish its region as a hub for nuclear-powered created hydrogen. The Department of Energy said each clean hydrogen hub will be located in a different region of the country.