Wind is South Dakota’s role in ‘hydrogen hub’


Effort seeks to reduce carbon emissions in five-state region

A wind turbine on a farmer's land near Aberdeen. (Joshua Haiar/South Dakota Searchlight)
 A wind turbine on a farmer’s land near Aberdeen. (Joshua Haiar/South Dakota Searchlight)

Hydrogen power may soon spread across the country thanks to federal grants, and South Dakota wind turbines could provide some of the electricity to make it. Hydrogen, as a gas, transforms into water when burned as fuel.While hydrogen is currently produced from fossil fuels — and used in industries such as oil refining, steel production and fertilizer production — renewable energy advancements and billions in federal climate change incentives are beginning to change that.

Hydrogen production via electrolysis – splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen using electricity – is gaining interest. To keep the process sustainable, electrolysis can be powered by excess production from wind and solar energy.

But those processes are expensive and require new infrastructure, which is why the Biden administration is directing $7 billion from the bipartisan infrastructure law to build seven regional hydrogen power hubs in 16 states, the White House announced Friday.

One of the new hubs is the Heartland Hydrogen Hub in Minnesota, Wisconsin, South Dakota, North Dakota and Montana, which is the recipient of a $925 million grant. The hub – a network of hydrogen producers, consumers and infrastructure – is a collaboration involving Xcel Energy, Marathon Petroleum Corporation, TC Energy and the University of North Dakota’s Energy & Environmental Resource Center. 

Not all of the hydrogen produced within the hubs will be strictly “green”; some could still be made from fossil fuels in processes that release CO2 into the atmosphere. But the projects hope to capture and store that carbon dioxide underground, a process called sequestration. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas in the atmosphere that traps heat and contributes to climate change.

The hydrogen could be used for the previously mentioned industrial applications, for heating buildings when mixed into the natural gas supply, and other uses.

The state of South Dakota was not a formal participant in planning the Heartland Hydrogen Hub. The governors of North Dakota, Minnesota, Montana and Wisconsin signed a memorandum of understanding last year to work on the plan together.

But South Dakota’s wind turbines could help power hydrogen production through electrolysis, said Theo Keith of Xcel Energy. The Minneapolis-based utility provides energy to customers across eight Western and Midwestern states, including South Dakota.

“We’re already thinking about places on our existing system to add electrolyzers to produce hydrogen from clean energy resources, and this includes our wind resources in South Dakota,” Keith said. “We anticipate future investment in South Dakota wind as well.”

The hub hopes to reduce carbon emissions associated with hydrogen production by over 1 million metric tons annually, equivalent to removing 220,000 gasoline cars from roads, and potentially generating about 3,900 jobs.

Xcel anticipates the hub’s efforts to build up hydrogen production will not be complete until 2035.