May 2, 2005

Midwest Research Projects Look to Hydrogen

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) -- Several research projects in South Dakota and neighboring states are looking to hydrogen as a fuel source that could reduce air pollution, global warming and dependence on foreign oil.

Hydrogen is seen as an ideal alternative to fossil fuels since it doesn't release carbon dioxide, a leading cause of global warming. But because there is no abundant natural source of pure hydrogen, it must come from other sources.

And that's where the Midwest comes in with its supplies of ethanol, wind energy and even cow manure, officials say.

"We hope this region can be an absolute leader in the production of hydrogen," Rolf Nordstrom of the Minneapolis-based Upper Midwest Hydrogen Initiative said in a speech last month to an energy conference in Sioux Falls.

Midwest researchers are working on several ideas.

- At South Dakota State University in Brookings, scientists want to build a manure digester that would turn the resulting gas into a renewable source of hydrogen.

Plans are on hold because of a shift in federal funding. But Kevin Kephart, director of the South Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station, said researchers are ready to build once the money is there.

- The University of North Dakota and the University of Minnesota are trying to make hydrogen from wind power, with a working fuel station near Minot, N.D.

- Other UND and University of Minnesota researchers want to turn ethanol into hydrogen inside a car's engine, eliminating the need to store compressed hydrogen gas.

Engineer Brad Stevens of UND's Energy and Environmental Research Center in Grand Forks, N.D., said his project could be generating hydrogen from nearby wind turbines by the end of the year.

Transmitting the electricity to a fueling station near Minot will help show the process can work even though wind turbines and fueling stations won't always be near each other, he said.

A project at the West Central Research and Outreach Center in Morris, Minn., also plans to make wind into hydrogen. But researcher Mike Reese says the hydrogen will be used to generate electricity when the wind isn't blowing, potentially making wind power more reliable.

At the University of Minnesota's Twin Cities campus and at UND, scientists are working on ethanol-based hydrogen.

Ethanol is among the best options for on-board hydrogen production because it's easily stored and it turns into hydrogen more easily than natural gas, said Ted Aulich of UND.

The initiative has set a goal of 11 refueling stations, allowing hydrogen vehicles to travel from Madison, Wis., to Sioux Falls to Manitoba.

Nordstrom said hydrogen could mean a lot for states such as South Dakota.

"There is an enormous economic prize for whoever perfects the production of renewable hydrogen," he said.