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The Benefits, Concerns, and Pathways for Hydrogen Fuel in the Central Valley
Opinion
By Opinion
Published 3 weeks ago on
June 26, 2024

It is crucial to carefully analyze the pathways to wide-scale hydrogen rollout and adoption to provide the most efficient and cost-effective solutions, while also avoiding the creation of new problems and unintended consequences. opines Valley congressional candidate Michael Maher. (Shutterstock)

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Recent publicity on SoCalGas’s Orange Cove project, covered by Edward Smith of GV Wire in his article “Stoves to Big Rigs: Hydrogen Aggressively Powers into the Valley’s Energy Profile,” highlights the ambitious efforts to integrate hydrogen into the Central Valley’s energy landscape.

As a proponent of hydrogen technology and a candidate for the 21st Congressional District, I applaud these initiatives aimed at fostering a cleaner, more sustainable future.

Michael Maher

Opinion

However, it is crucial to carefully analyze the pathways to wide-scale hydrogen rollout and adoption to provide the most efficient and cost-effective solutions, while also avoiding the creation of new problems and unintended consequences.

In prior op-eds, I have discussed two primary pathways in hydrogen production. The first path involves electrolyzing water using solar or wind-generated electricity to produce hydrogen in a centralized model, while the second path employs locally grown sustainable biofuels to generate hydrogen on location, at the sites where hydrogen fuel or new hydrogen generated electrical power is needed.

Comparing the Two Paths

Industrial Hydrogen Path

Centralized Production: This approach requires vast industrial resources, primarily sourced from China or other countries outside the United States. It leverages California’s excellent solar conditions and open spaces to install extensive solar panels for centralized hydrogen production.

Challenges: The installation of thousands of megawatts of solar panels involves significant environmental costs, including land use changes and ecological disruptions. Once installed on farm or ranchland, the environment of those spaces is permanently changed for the worse, despite its use for green energy. Additionally, this path requires significant infrastructure investment to transport hydrogen from production sites to areas of demand, which will cost all of us as consumers and as taxpayers, billions of additional dollars.

Agricultural Hydrogen Path

Localized Production: This method uses renewable biogas, such as ethanol, as a transport medium for hydrogen. It leverages existing infrastructure and our agricultural resources and world-leading strengths, enabling sustainable hydrogen delivery directly to the point of use.

Advantages: Converting ethanol to hydrogen on-site significantly reduces the environmental impact in the transportation logistics. It avoids the need for extensive new infrastructure, saving billions of dollars. The efficiency of transporting ethanol is nearly 10 times more efficient and is the safest method of transporting hydrogen molecules. The widespread availability of ethanol and transportation infrastructure for moving it across our state and the nation allows for a decentralized approach to hydrogen distribution.

Environmental and Economic Considerations

You may recall from chemistry, that hydrogen is listed in the No. 1 element position on the periodic table and has the smallest atomic mass. Due to this small size and properties of hydrogen effecting metals and other materials, the transportation of hydrogen through pipelines poses several challenges, including potential leaks and safety hazards.

Our choice is between covering vast miles of our farmland with solar panels or covering it with successful farms and ranches creating thousands of new jobs and protecting our Central Valley environment.

For this reason, blending hydrogen into existing gas lines must be limited, case in point the SoCalGas project in Orange Cove. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory notes in low concentrations, less than 5% to 15% hydrogen blending in existing natural gas pipeline, networks appear viable without significant increase of risks to household appliances, public safety, or the existing pipeline network.

Retrofitting or building new hydrogen pipelines would be extremely costly and time-consuming. Conversely, ethanol transportation through existing infrastructure is proven, practical and efficient with no new or added costs.  By producing hydrogen at the point of use, we can ensure a reliable supply without extensive pipeline networks.

This method supports heavy-duty transportation and energy-intensive industries while aligning with California’s environmental standards. The conversion of ethanol to hydrogen is a well-established process that can be scaled to meet varying demands. This flexibility is crucial for accommodating the diverse energy needs of different sectors, from municipal transportation to industrial applications.

Using ethanol as a transport medium also offers significant economic advantages. It reduces the initial capital investment required for infrastructure development, leveraging existing assets and resulting in cost savings that can be passed on to consumers and businesses. Ethanol carries more hydrogen per shipment unit than hydrogen itself, making it a more efficient transport medium.

Broader Benefits and Conclusion

Our choice is between covering vast miles of our farmland with solar panels or covering it with successful farms and ranches creating thousands of new jobs and protecting our Central Valley environment.

The environmental benefits of using ethanol extend beyond reduced transportation emissions. Ethanol can be produced from renewable sources, including agricultural waste and dedicated energy crops, contributing to a circular ecosystem and supporting rural economies. By integrating hydrogen production with ethanol, we can create a sustainable and resilient energy system that benefits both the environment and local communities. This keeps jobs in agriculture and benefits the land through regenerative conservation practices in farming feedstock for biofuels.

While turning farmland into large-scale solar panel installations is recognized as a significant step towards renewable energy, it is essential to consider the broader environmental impacts and explore alternative solutions. Utilizing ethanol as a storage and transport medium for hydrogen offers an efficient approach addressing both economic and ecological concerns.

As we advance towards a greener future, we must adopt strategies that balance progress with environmental and financial stewardship, ensuring that our region remains at the forefront of lasting sustainable energy development.

 About the Author

Michael Maher, a U.S. congressional candidate for CA-21, is committed to establishing Fresno as a leader in green hydrogen, regenerative agriculture, nuclear and advanced energy production. His diverse experience in the Navy, FBI, and private sector, alongside his involvement with TO VIRIDI INC., drives his vision to transform the Central Valley into a national beacon for green hydrogen innovation.

Make Your Voice Heard

GV Wire encourages vigorous debate from people and organizations on local, state, and national issues. Submit your op-ed to bmcewen@gvwire.com for consideration.

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