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Renewable Energy

WISHH Collective Opens Door For Utah Hydrogen Growth

Renewable Innovations

Last year’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act breathed fresh air into the thousands of roads, bridges, and transit hubs that comprise the nation’s connective tissue. Beyond that, it sought to comprehensively address the country’s preparedness for long-term environmental changes with upgrades to wastewater treatment, drinking water purification, and broadband access nationwide. 

But beyond the broader strokes of the landmark law, significant federal resources were allocated to various technologies with the potential to change the energy equation. By disbursing some federal funds proactively, the thinking is that any subsequent breakthroughs in relevant research areas could save exponentially more down the road.

One of the bigger renewable experiments present in the legislation was the allocation of $8 billion to a group of four states for the development of regional “hydrogen hubs.”

The group, which includes New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah, is set to receive an extensive list of requests from the Department of Energy to begin the proposal process, which will pave the way for a release of funding from the agency. 

“Clean hydrogen is key to cleaning up American manufacturing and slashing emissions from carbon-intensive materials like steel and cement while creating good-paying jobs for American workers,” said U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, who voiced additional optimism for the prospective impact on state economies.

Photo Courtesy Mitsubishi Power

As the process kicks off, the states have come together to form the Western Inter-States Hydrogen Hub (WISHH), intending to coordinate development efforts across different hubs soon to be built in each of the four states. The collaboration represents a big bet from the federal government on hydrogen, a chemical discussed for years as a potential supplement to other, more conventional renewable energy sources. Although hydrogen burns clean and is additionally convertible to electricity via fuel cells, the sector has yet to see notable federal investment in the material’s production and transportation.  

Utah is arguably the most attractive partner for the federal government of the four states. Its appeal is alluded to in a letter composed by the WISHH member states, which mentions a need for “favorable geology to support underground storage” for hydrogen — Utah has plenty. Hydrogen is unlike most other energy sources. It has few natural reserves like oil and coal and cannot be drawn from the wind or sun like other renewables. 

Instead, making usable hydrogen takes energy on its own that is then primarily stored within the material. This interesting property has inspired Utah’s Intermountain Power Agency (IPA) to convert an existing coal plant into a hydrogen storage facility, holding excess solar energy for cloudier periods. “That is storing renewable energy in the form of green hydrogen in the spring months, where it is produced in excess due to low energy market requirements,” said Rob Webster, chief strategy officer for IPA partner and coal mine owner Magnum Development. 

Photo Courtesy Stadler Rail

The hub is already spurring new development in Utah’s private energy sector, with transportation investments underway.

Lancer Energy is looking to the material as an alternative shipping fuel, citing the favorability of its weight compared to the lithium batteries that have dominated the consumer car market. “Today, we have heavy-duty class-8 hydrogen trucks with a range of up to 500 miles, and in 2024 we will have trucks that can go up to 900 miles without refueling,” says Free Reyes, Lancer executive vice president. 

Other projects include a hydrogen-powered train from Stadler Rail. The initial development will take place in Switzerland; however, the company has voiced interest in using Utah as its manufacturing site for American orders in the coming years. 

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