The University of Minnesota West Central Research and Outreach Center (WCROC) is developing a wind to hydrogen demonstration system in partnership with Xcel Energy and other Minnesota stakeholders. The wind energy to hydrogen system is one of several core systems being developed as part of the University of Minnesota Renewable Energy Research and Demonstration Center at Morris. The demonstration and research platforms detailed below are designed to propel Minnesota into the hydrogen economy and to establish the state as a national and world leader in this growing industry.
Phase One includes an existing 1.65 MW wind turbine, a 400 kW electrolyzer, hydrogen storage tanks, internal combustion engine generator, and interconnection to UMM and power grid. This phase is designed to produce the raw product and utilize the hydrogen in an ICE genset to "firm up" wind energy production and produce "on-demand" power.
One of the most profound uses of wind energy in the state and potentially the ideal bridge technology / industry in Minnesota and the Midwest could be the production of nitrogen fertilizer (anhydrous ammonia). A pilot project that proves to be technically and economically feasible could redefine wind energy and agriculture in Minnesota. Wind energy, water, and air would replace natural gas as the core ingredients in the production of nitrogen fertilizer. Both processes ultimately use hydrogen as the basis for production. Wind to hydrogen to anhydrous ammonia would address current issues with wind energy (lack of transmission), hydrogen (storage-most rural agricultural communities have a anhydrous ammonia storage facility), natural gas (expensive and imported), and rural development (the fertilizer will be produced were it is used and the money will remain in-state). Initial estimates imply that switching to this method of production would utilize over 2 gigawatts of wind power statewide and would keep $300 million within the state of Minnesota.
Another bridge technology that will lead to the broader use of hydrogen transportation fuels is the conversion of service vehicles. The use of this class of vehicles is centralized around a farm, manufacturing facility, and other businesses. The vehicles include forklifts, skid loaders, farm utility vehicles, and lawn tractors. The use of hydrogen internal combustion engines in cars and pickups will also be a bridge to fuel cell cars. We propose to establish a permanent hydrogen fueling station in order to fuel six service vehicles and five cars.
Utilizing a turbine to produce electricity may be more cost effective than an internal combustion engine or fuel cell particular when achieving energy production over 2 megawatts. The characteristics of an ideal hybrid wind energy system would be storage of wind energy when energy supply is adequate and cost competitive, on-demand energy when necessary. Fuel cells and internal combustion engines are adequate when demand is relatively low, however when large amounts of electrical energy are needed, gas turbines may provide the best option when wind energy is not available. We propose to demonstrate the mixing of hydrogen with natural gas to create hythane (10-20% hydrogen), transport this fuel through a short pipeline system to a hythane turbine. If proven, this technology could potentially replace 10-20% of the state's natural gas consumption. Biogas may be substituted at natural gas specifications from either a biomass synthesis gas stream or methane digester.
The second part of this demonstration would be to utilize the hythane in natural gas furnaces / boilers. We propose to demonstrate this technology in the West Central Research and Outreach Center facilities incorporating a short pipeline system from the fuel mixing utility to hythane furnaces.
The state of Minnesota has a vast supply of renewable resources. It is important that we take a fresh approach in utilizing these resources. As a society that has "grown up" with fossil fuels, it is difficult to comprehend that a gallon of water contains more potential energy than a gallon of gasoline. The University of Minnesota West Central Research and Outreach Center, Xcel Energy, and other Minnesota stakeholders are poised to be national and worldwide leaders in the development of renewable hydrogen production and utilization.