Powering Strong Communities

Pacific Northwest Partnership To Study Hydrogen Production From Hydropower

Idaho National Laboratory and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory are partnering with Idaho Power to evaluate the feasibility of making hydrogen at existing hydropower plants.

“INL and PNNL will evaluate the coupling of electrolytic hydrogen production technologies with hydropower plants to identify scenarios that could help Idaho Power achieve its goal of providing 100% clean energy by 2045,” Brett Dumas, Idaho Power’s director of environmental affairs, said in a statement. Idaho Power has 17 hydroelectric power plants.

As a first step, the partners will develop modeling and analytical methods to explore deployment scenarios that can maximize the benefits of hydropower-based hydrogen production.

Researchers at Idaho National Laboratory will use the Department of Energy’s software tool for techno-economic evaluation of other hydrogen production and usage applications. The tool, Hydrogen Analysis, can perform screening studies of the most promising electrolysis technologies and hydrogen use cases and allows users to access all calculations, as well as check intermediate results.

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory researchers will build on the results of the screening study to model and optimize the hydrogen production system.

Through the Hydrogen Energy Storage Evaluation Tool and data analysis, Idaho National Laboratory and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory researchers will determine how to implement the right set of technologies to achieve the best performance. 

Among the benefits the researchers aim to explore are how hydrogen production from hydropower can enhance grid stability through energy storage, reoxygenate water for downstream environmental improvements, and support decarbonizing energy production in Idaho.

Several West Coast entities, including Eugene Water and Electric Board, Douglas County PUD and the Northern California Power Agency, are exploring hydrogen production using renewable generation, but the Idaho National Laboratory and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory researchers note that most renewable energy generation technologies face the challenge of varying power output while hydropower provides consistent generation and hydrogen production can increase flexibility by helping balance wind and solar generation.

“By capturing the off-peak energy production as hydrogen, the hydrogen can be re-electrified during peak energy demand,” Daniel Wendt, principal investigator at Idaho National Laboratory and a researcher on the project said in a statement. “Storing hydrogen as a fuel could help stabilize the grid and offer a cleaner alternative to fossil-fuel backup power generation. This approach could give electrical system operators greater flexibility to ensure reliable and economical service.”

“To effectively schedule hydrogen production, advanced modeling and optimization techniques are required to account for both energy shifting opportunities and oxygen needs subject to both system- and component-level constraints,” Di Wu, a chief research engineer and the technical lead at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, said in a statement.

In addition, the Idaho National Laboratory and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory researchers said that the oxygen produced as a byproduct of hydrogen generation could also address water quality issues in rivers. Reservoirs behind dams may have low levels of dissolved oxygen, particularly during summer and early fall. Dissolved oxygen in a river is necessary for fish and other aquatic species.

The Idaho National Laboratory and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory researchers said the data, models and analyses developed through the partnership would help determine the viability of hydropower and hydrogen integration, both for Idaho and facilities across the United States.