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Los Angeles aims to be nation's 1st green hydrogen hub

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Los Angeles aims to be nation's 1st green hydrogen hub

A diverse group of stakeholders outlined plans to develop the nation's first green hydrogen hub in Los Angeles with a goal of driving down the fuel's cost premium over natural gas.

At the root of the endeavor, HyDeal LA, are plans to convert four Los Angeles-area gas-fired power plants to run on hydrogen, which would create a large source of demand for the zero-carbon fuel. This demand could serve as a foundation to scale up the supply chain, including a proposal to deploy green hydrogen production equipment, while project partners attract other off-takers eager to decarbonize their businesses.

The project would address green hydrogen's chicken-or-egg issue, in which there is too little demand to spur investment in the supply chain and yet such development is critical to reducing costs and increasing demand. Green hydrogen is typically processed by splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen in electrolyzers, using renewable electric power as an energy source. The HyDeal LA project would aim to cut green hydrogen's cost to $1.50 per kilogram by 2030, a price target shared by other global hydrogen stakeholders.

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In the longer term, the project would establish LA as one of several emerging leaders in the global hydrogen market, Janice Lin, founder and president of the Green Hydrogen Coalition, said during a May 18 webinar. In Lin's vision, the program would expand hydrogen use from power generation to LA's industrial and transportation sectors. It would lead to green ammonia production to decarbonize California's maritime industry and agricultural sector. Ultimately, it could enable the first U.S. hydrogen fuel cell plane flights and green hydrogen exports to the Asia-Pacific region, Lin said.

The Green Hydrogen Coalition developed the HyDeal platform to launch regional systems for green hydrogen throughout the U.S.

LA's hydrogen ambitions start with power generation

As the first project, HyDeal LA will see the Green Hydrogen Coalition once again partner with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power California, or LADWP. The pair's first project is converting Utah's coal-fired Intermountain power plant into a combined-cycle gas turbine facility, which will provide power to the LADWP's service territory. The plan is to run the facility on a roughly 30% hydrogen mix at startup, with plans to eventually operate it entirely on hydrogen.

HyDeal will follow that model and in doing so will give a second life to several gas-fired plants scheduled for closure, starting with the LADWP's Scattergood plant, according to LADWP General Manager and Chief Engineer Martin Adams. In 2019, LA announced it would retire the Scattergood, Haynes and Harbor CC gas-fired plants between 2024 and 2029, citing a state requirement to stop using seawater to cool power plants.

The closures raised questions about how to replace the power generation in the LA Basin. "We have four in-basin power plants that currently run on natural gas, and we know that if we want to have a clean energy future, not only do we need this energy, but we need to convert it to a different fuel source," Adams said.

The LADWP now plans to build a new power plant capable of running on a natural gas-hydrogen mix on the Scattergood site, followed by conversions at the other three plants, Adams said. The LADWP anticipates being one of the area's largest anchor customers for green hydrogen, Adams added. Adams expects LA to both import the fuel and produce it within city limits.

Building out the supply chain

Another lead partner, 174 Power Global Corp., plans to develop and build utility-scale solar power plants to power electrolyzers. To keep green hydrogen costs low, operators need to run electrolyzers as much as possible to recoup their capital costs, Mitsubishi Power Americas Inc. President and CEO Paul Browning noted. That means producers will likely dedicate some renewable power strictly to running electrolyzers at first, with a goal of running them on excess renewable power later, Browning said.

Mitsubishi Power is providing the turbines for the Intermountain power project. Browning said the plan is to demonstrate the capability to run the turbines on 100% hydrogen in the next few years. It will take another few years to commercialize the technology, the executive added.

"When you're developing a new technology, it's always hard to predict exactly when it's going to be ready because we're still in the process of developing it," Browning said. "But it's something that we're working on for this decade."

Hydrogen's ability to essentially store renewable power in gas form is critical to the LADWP, Adams said. The department recently determined it would need thousands of megawatts of in-basin storage to achieve 100% renewable energy, Adams noted.

As for transporting green hydrogen, Southern California Gas Co. and its gas utility peers have pitched demonstration projects to state regulators to determine how much hydrogen their existing pipeline networks can accommodate, company President Maryam Brown said. While gas distributors would seek to leverage existing infrastructure where possible to minimize costs, there is also an opportunity to invest in systems purpose-built to carry hydrogen, Brown said.

However, stakeholders should avoid making "bad near-term investments" in unnecessary new pipelines or retrofitting lines that are far from demand centers, warned Rachel Fakhry, senior policy analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council and a HyDeal adviser.