Spokane Journal of Business

The Journal’s View: Hydrogen fuel hub spotlight could shine here, statewide


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The Spokane area and other parts of Eastern Washington have a good chance of taking a share of the spotlight as the state seeks to take the global stage in green hydrogen production as a vital component of decarbonizing the economy.

Washington state officials are looking to secure a stake in up to $2 billion out of $8 billion that will be invested through the U.S. Department of Energy to create regional hubs for the production and distribution of hydrogen as fuel.

In the Journal’s View, this could be an opportunity for some businesses and industries here to take a position in the forefront of a technology with potential to reduce or eliminate carbon emissions.

Used as a fuel, hydrogen is a carbon-free energy source that emits water vapor when burned. Hydrogen also is a component in the manufacturing of other low-carbon biofuels. Proponents say the key to converting to a hydrogen-based economy will be in producing hydrogen outside of the conventional method of splitting hydrocarbon molecules, which produces greenhouse gasses.

One significant strategic advantage where Washington is ahead of the competition for these federal hydrogen dollars is its abundance of clean, renewable hydropower, which is produced at some of the lowest costs in the world. The carbon-free electricity is ideal to manufacture green hydrogen by splitting water molecules through an electrolysis process.

State Department of Commerce director Lisa Brown, who chairs the recently formed Pacific Northwest Hydrogen Association, says no other region is as advanced in clean electricity. Brown, who has Spokane roots, says the association aims to lead the nation in demonstrating how to decarbonize heavy transportation, aviation, maritime, agriculture, cloud computing, and other industrial operations with green hydrogen.

The association is putting out a request for information for proposals for public-private hydrogen projects.

Fortunately, Washington state isn’t starting from scratch, as a group called the Consortium for Hydrogen and Renewably Generated E-fuels, or CHARGE, which is funded by Commerce and administered by Washington State University, has been forming an innovation cluster organization to bring together public and private players in hydrogen production.

Aaron Feaver, director of CHARGE, says Washington state has the expertise in academia, business, and government to advance green hydrogen technology and reduce the cost to commercialize it.

Spokane-area companies Feaver has contacted include Avista Corp. and CarbonQuest Inc.

Casey Fielder, of Avista, says hydrogen will play an important role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and Avista is exploring additional renewable energy options that include hydrogen.

Feaver says he can envision CarbonQuest, which develops systems to capture and store carbon emissions from large buildings, being involved in projects that link with the hydrogen economy to help reduce net carbon in the atmosphere.

Also of note, Plug Power Inc., the New York-based company that acquired fuel cell maker ReliOn Inc., of Spokane Valley, in 2014, and makes hydrogen fuel cells here, has deals with Amazon to use Plug Power technology to fuel forklifts and trucks, and with Microsoft to run data center computers using hydrogen.

While there promises to be much competition for federal hydrogen project dollars, Washington state is well positioned to lead with the technology, and Spokane and Eastern Washington have an opportunity to be part of that lead.

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