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North Dakota, Minnesota want to form a hydrogen hub — what does that mean?

North Dakota will lead the application process for the Heartland Hydrogen Hub that includes Minnesota, Montana and Wisconsin.

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North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, right, and Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz.
Contributed photos
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FARGO — The governors of North Dakota, Minnesota, Montana and Wisconsin have signed a memorandum of understanding to develop the Heartland Hydrogen Hub and receive federal funding that was announced by the U.S. Department of Energy late last month.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte and Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers signed the memorandum Wednesday, Oct. 5, in a bid to receive a portion of $7 billion from the Department of Energy that would help develop a new clean energy option.

The Department of Energy announced plans to select six to 10 hydrogen hubs for funding on Sept. 23, with concept papers due Nov. 7 and applications due April 7, 2023.

North Dakota will lead the application process for the Heartland Hydrogen Hub through the Energy and Environmental Research Center at the University of North Dakota, Burgum said in a statement.

The states plan to find ways to collaborate with tribal nations and will allow other states to join the group.

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With federal and state leaders touting the importance of hydrogen hubs, it begs the question: What are they?

According to energy.gov, "Clean hydrogen hubs will create networks of hydrogen producers, consumers, and local connective infrastructure to accelerate the use of hydrogen as a clean energy carrier that can deliver and store tremendous amounts of energy."

Hydrogen is used in fuel cells and internal combustion engines. Because hydrogen within a fuel cell produces only water, electricity and heat, it is heralded as a clean energy option that could reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the Department of Energy said.

Hydrogen must be produced using a primary energy source, such as natural gas, electrical energy or coal, to extract it from other atoms, according to the Florida Solar Energy Center.

About 95% of hydrogen produced in the U.S. is done through steam-methane reformation, separating hydrocarbons and water into pure hydrogen, also producing carbon dioxide, the Florida Solar Energy Center said.

The memorandum for the Heartland Hydrogen Hub said hydrogen could potentially help with "clean air, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, energy security, job creation, long-term energy cost savings, and rural and urban economic development."

According to the Department of Energy, hydrogen and fuel cells could reduce emissions by 50% to 90% over light-duty, gas-powered vehicles; by more than 35% over diesel and battery-powered lift trucks; and by 35% to 50% over conventional heat and power sources.

However, at room temperature, hydrogen has a very low energy content compared to liquid fuels and natural gas, so it needs to be compressed or liquefied by lowering its temperature. Currently, hydrogen storage techniques are not able to satisfy all auto industry requirements, the Florida Solar Energy Center said, as the compression tanks weigh far more than the hydrogen they can hold.

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Hydrogen presents some extra risks over traditional fuel sources as it is highly combustible and leaks easily. In 2019, an explosion rocked a hydrogen refueling station in Norway when hydrogen gas leaked from a tank, Reuters reported.

Japan has been pioneering hydrogen fuel since the 1970s, with a fleet of hydrogen-powered city buses in Tokyo and hydrogen keeping the Olympic flame burning in 2021, CBS reported in October 2021.

Plans have been in the works for another hydrogen hub in North Dakota since June 2021, when Mitsubishi Power Americas and Bakken Energy announced a deal to convert the Great Plains Synfuels Plant into the "largest producer of clean hydrogen in North America."

Most recently, in February, the partners entered an agreement with the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation in western North Dakota to use natural gas from below the Fort Berthold Reservation to power the plant. At the time, the project was slated to be operational in early 2027.

Kaity Young is a news editor at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. She joined the company in 2018 and enjoys learning about her community and the region through editing news stories.
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