Two big players in Colorado energy are searching for a way to store the energy generated by wind farms. In a pilot program, Xcel Energy and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory plan to use wind power to create hydrogen fuel.
Two big players in Colorado energy are searching for a way to store the energy generated by wind farms.
In a pilot program, Xcel Energy and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory plan to use wind power to create hydrogen fuel.
The idea is to increase the efficiency of wind generation by using it during off-peak hours to produce hydrogen. The hydrogen would be stored, then used later to produce electricity during periods of peak demand.
"In effect, hydrogen becomes the battery to store wind power," said Ben Kroposki, a senior engineer at the Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden.
The $1.75 million pilot program will be formally unveiled Wednesday at a Denver forum titled "New Energy Technologies for Coloradans," an event that is part of Colorado Tech Week.
The technology takes clean energy to even greener levels, using a renewable resource, wind, to make a nonpolluting fuel, hydrogen, in one of the nation's first attempts to combine the two energy resources.
"This helps us get more value out of wind energy and helps advance the prospects of hydrogen," said Frank Novachek, director of corporate planning for Xcel Energy.
Hydrogen fuel is the basis of the much-touted "hydrogen economy" that may one day be a cornerstone of the nation's energy policy.
The pilot concept could reach its full potential in coming decades when hydrogen-powered fuel cells become a primary method of powering vehicles and large amounts of hydrogen are needed, Kroposki said.
Initially, a single Jefferson County wind turbine would provide power to extract hydrogen from water in a process known as electrolysis.
The hydrogen would be burned in an internal-combustion engine, generating enough electricity to power 20 to 25 homes.
A handful of national experimental projects already are producing hydrogen from wind power. The new pilot project in Colorado is expected to increase the efficiency of the process by 3 percent to 6 percent, by improving the ability to use wind power for electrolysis. Ultimately, the technology might be employed at every wind farm in the nation, officials said.
Officials acknowledge that using hydrogen as an internal-combustion fuel is relatively inefficient and doesn't yet make economic sense. But the key to the project is in finding ways to store the unused capacity of wind turbines at night, when consumer demand for electricity is lowest. Wind turbines typically are shut down during off-peak periods if other generators such as coal-fired plants are supplying adequate amounts of power.
"It's a terrifically innovative process," said Drew Bolin, director of the Governor's Office of Energy Management & Conservation, sponsor of the energy forum.
The public forum takes place from noon to 3:30 p.m. Wednesday in the state Capitol's Old Supreme Court Chambers, Room 220.
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Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News