New Hydrogen Technology Center is already creating an impact with partnerships
By Derek Walters
Thanks to a culture of partnerships at UND’s Energy & Environmental Research Center (EERC), the National Center for Hydrogen Technology (NCHT) will soon have a home of its own.
One such partnership began in November 2004, when the EERC was designated the NCHT by the U.S. Department of Energy in recognition of more than 50 years of hydrogen research from fossil and renewable energy.
“The NCHT program is a model for partnerships, with the federal government, the state of North Dakota, and corporate partners. We also have the city involved, and the Grand Forks Regional Economic Development Corporation has been a strong advocate for our hydrogen center of excellence,” said Dr. Gerald Groenewold, EERC director.
U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) secured the cornerstone funding for the NCHT. “When you look at the future of energy in this country, one of the most promising technologies on the horizon is hydrogen,” he said. “The groundbreaking research that will be done right here in North Dakota will allow our grandchildren to drive hydrogen-powered cars, live in hydrogen-powered homes, and end our country’s addiction to foreign sources of energy. The road to energy independence runs right through Grand Forks and up to the front doors of the EERC.”
A year later, two more partners entered the picture: the North Dakota Centers of Excellence Commission, which awarded the EERC $2.5 million, and the city of Grand Forks, which provided $500,000 in matching funds. The goal: to build a new 15,000-square-foot hydrogen demonstration, testing, and commercialization facility at the EERC. The facility will result in 50 to 100 new, high-paying private sector-equivalent jobs at the EERC and an additional 50 to 100 new private sector jobs in the greater Grand Forks area.
“The EERC is a model for our Centers of Excellence concept, illustrating a successful partnership between business and research that results in high-paying jobs and career opportunities for our citizens,” said North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven. “The new hydrogen technology Center of Excellence facility will generate those jobs and career opportunities by developing the products of the future.”
“It is important to understand that this is not just a center, it is THE center for hydrogen technology,” said Hal Gershman, Grand Forks City Council president and EERC Foundation secretary–treasurer. “That designation is important because the federal government recognizes the innovation that is taking place and will continue to take place at this center,” he said.
So does the private sector.
$28 million in hydrogen-related contracts
Already, the EERC’s National Center for Hydrogen Technology has secured more than $28 million in hydrogen-related contracts with more than 50 private-sector partners nationwide. It is anticipated that this will exceed $35 million by the end of the fiscal year (June 30, 2007).
“As an example, we have two major international corporate clients very interested in installing, here at the EERC, innovative, state-of-the-art hydrogen production demonstration units, which can be fed with a variety of biomass or fossil fuels,” said Groenewold.
In July, the EERC demonstrated many aspects of the future hydrogen economy at the North Dakota State Fair to educate the public about the wide array of hydrogen and fuel cell initiatives occurring around the state and in the Upper Great Plains.
“Several vehicles were displayed, including the eP-Ice Bear, the world’s first fuel cell-powered ice resurfacer; a fuel cell-powered Hyster forklift; a portable hydrogen refueling station; and three Chevy Silverado 4x4 pickup trucks converted to run on gas, E85, and hydrogen,” said Mike Holmes, EERC deputy associate director for research.
“Hydrogen fuel cells are here — they are not tomorrow’s technology,” said Groenewold. “The only question is, how fast are we going to deploy them in our workplaces and on our roadways?”
Several projects are currently under way to do just that. An effort by Basin Electric Power Cooperative and the EERC, among many others, is using one renewable source of energy to produce another. The project centers on the idea of creating hydrogen using the electricity produced by wind turbines, with virtually no harmful emissions. The energy produced by wind turbines near Minot, N.D., provides the electricity required for the hydrogen production process. Hydrogen will be stored and used to refuel the converted Chevy 4x4 pickups.
“The EERC is also working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Construction Engineering Research Laboratory, ePower Synergies, Inc., and the U.S. Air Force to develop techniques for the U.S. Department of Defense to produce hydrogen from military fuel (JP-8) for on-demand hydrogen on the battlefield,” EERC Associate Director for Research Tom Erickson said.
Other major commercialization efforts are in progress with partners such as Xethanol, Siemens Power Generation, Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, and many others.