Fuel of the future

Pursuit of alternative energy brings Bair Energy to Elk Mountain


March 31, 2022

Hydrogen has been the subject of a few conversations in Carbon County this past week.On March 14, Nicholas Bair, CEO of Clean Energy Holdings, came to the Elk Mountain Town Council to introduce himself and talk about the hydrogen plant project his company hopes to build at Simpson Ridge, outside of town. The town residents and council members listened and had questions Bair answered as best as he could. Bair promised to come back in the beginning of April to further address their questions.

“We want to be transparent,” Bair said. “We want to work with the community and be receptive to your concerns.”

According to a March 24 press release from the company, Clean Energy Holdings (CEH), is a renewable energy and technology platform and alliance. Their stated focused is on deploying, developing, owning and operating “leading edge renewable technologies in green power, low carbon energy projects”. CEH, according to the press release, has formed a funding partnership with CIM Group’s Infrastructure Fund to finance the Phase I development for front end engineering and design for what they are calling a leading Green Hydrogen facility. CIM Group is a $30 billion plus asset management firm with a strategic focus to grow Energy Transformation project.

The release stated the Simpson Ridge Green Hydrogen Project is one of the first of several projects in the pipeline for CEH with a 2024 commercial operation date.

In the press release, Bair was said, “We are committed to lead the US market in the production and implementation of green hydrogen for industrial, chemical and mobility applications including transportation and gas turbine transformation.  To achieve our goals, we have assembled an alliance of industry leaders who are navigating through the challenges in delivering on contract, safely, for first of its kind renewable 100 percent green hydrogen projects.  Our platform and additional alliance partnerships will be announced for future projects of similar size and scale in the near future.”

Bair is coming back to northern Carbon County early April. On April 2, he will be in Medicine Bow and, on April 3, he will return to Elk Mountain. He understands people may be doubtful of his proposal for several reasons. Northern Carbon County still has a bad taste in its mouth from the coal-to-gasoline plant which had been proposed by DKRW in the early 2010s. The company officially suspended plans for the project in 2016. By that time, many residents and elected officials felt take advantage of by the Houston-based company.

Bair wants to assure locals his project is nothing like the DKRW project . He is no stranger to people doubting a different idea. Bair grew up in southern Oregon. He said there are often droughts and water was a valuable commodity to his family’s dairy farm. In the early 2000s, the family became the first dairy farm to go organic. 

“We didn’t get a lot of support when we started, but 10 years later, a majority of dairy farms are organic in the area,” Bair said. “It was during that time I saw water wars crop up and it led me to become involved in understanding water.”

Bair went to school at Oregon State University and became well acquainted with chemistry. He got interested in helping farms save money through alternative fuels.

“The thing that made sense to me was to utilize hydrogen,” Bair said. “The water consumption of hydrogen is very low as compared to most industrial processes. It goes in as water and comes out as water.”

Bair said the process of making hydrogen was better for the environment and it gave predictability on being available.

Hydrogen is a naturally occurring element and can be produced from a variety of sources such as fossil fuels, water, biomass, and used as an energy or fuel source with zero greenhouse gas emissions. 

Based on the method used for producing hydrogen, it is given a different color categorization. For example, “green hydrogen” refers to hydrogen produced from water via electrolysis using renewable energy sources, whereas “blue hydrogen” refers to hydrogen sourced from a fossil fuel base combined with technology that captures carbon released in the production process.  

Because of its versatility, the use of hydrogen for the next generation of energy is a burgeoning field slated for massive growth over the coming decades.

Possible uses of hydrogen include fuel cell technology; zero-emission fuel for vehicles, airplanes, maritime transport and space rockets; blending with natural gas to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; feedstock for ammonia and urea production; long-duration energy storage; and zero-emission process fuel for industrial applications like steel and cement manufacturing.

Hydrogen is easily the most abundant element in the universe. It is found in the sun and most of the stars and the planet Jupiter is composed mostly of hydrogen. On Earth, hydrogen is found in the greatest quantities as water.

Almost all America’s fuel cell vehicles are in California with a handful in Hawaii. There are 48 hydrogen refueling stations in California and one in Hawaii as of September 2021.

The major hydrogen producing states are California, Louisiana and Texas. Today, almost all the hydrogen produced in the United States is used for refining petroleum, treating metals, producing fertilizer, and processing foods.

“Converting things to hydrogen; there are two ways to do it,” Steve Priest, Principal of Hanna, Elk Mountain, Medicine Bow (HEM) High School explained. “Both of them are ‘green energy’ and the first one is the hydrogen fuel cell.”

Priest said the fuel cell was the same concept as what is used in electric vehicles but, instead of plugging in electricity to a fuel cell, a fuel cell is filled with hydrogen and the cell powers the engine. Priest knows a bit about alternative fuels from time working in agriculture in Ohio. He remembers the boom and bust of ethanol and biofuels. Hydrogen, however, does show promise for being a strong fuel in the future. 

Priest said there are examples of other countries trying to convert to hydrogen. One of those countries which has done a large amount of research into the technology is Japan.

The reason for this is in order to become carbon neutral, the Japanese government intends to transform the nation into a “hydrogen society”. The energy demand in Japan would require the government to import 36 million tons of liquefied hydrogen. The nation’s commercial imports are projected to be 100 times less than this amount by 2030, when the use of the fuel is expected to commence, which represents a serious challenge.

Japan has published a preliminary road map calling for hydrogen and related fuels to supply 10 percent of the power for electricity generation as well as a significant portion of the energy for other uses like shipping and steel manufacture by 2050.

The country has created a hydrogen highway consisting of 135 subsidized hydrogen fuels stations and plans to construct 1,000 by the end of the decade.

Japan is not the only country in Asia betting hydrogen is the fuel of the future. China is the leader of the global hydrogen market with an output of 20 million tons, accounting for a third of the global production. Sinopec, a huge Chinese industrial company, looks to generate 500,000 tons of green hydrogen by 2025.

Researchers from the Harvard China Project have indicated hydrogen generated from wind energy could provide a cost effective alternative for coal-dependent regions. As part of preparations for the 2022 Winter Olympics a hydrogen electrolyzer, described as the world’s largest, began operations to provide fuel for vehicles used at the games. The electrolyzer produced green hydrogen using onshore wind.

Another country in the Pacific taking hydrogen seriously for their future is the land down under. 

In Australia, green hydrogen has cost twice as much as conventional hydrogen and blue hydrogen, but a 2020 Australian National University report estimated Australia could be producing it for much cheaper, even currently, and it could equal the price of conventional and blue hydrogen at about $2 per kilogram by 2030, which would be cost-competitive with fossil fuels. An energy market analyst in this country suggested, in early 2021, the price of green hydrogen would drop 70 percent over the coming 10 years in countries which have cheap renewable energy.In 2020, the Australian government fast tracked approval for the world’s largest planned renewable energy export facility in the Pilbara region The following year, energy companies announced plans to construct a “hydrogen valley” in New South Wales at a cost of $2 billion which would replace the region’s coal industry.

With the world realizing its dependence on fossil fuels, hydrogen conversion for vehicles could be coming at pivotal time.

Hydrogen emits only water when burned but creating it can be carbon intensive. While hydrogen is abundant in the universe, it must be separated from other compounds to be used as fuel. Depending on production methods, hydrogen can be grey, blue or green – and sometimes even pink, yellow or turquoise. However, green hydrogen is the only type produced in a climate neutral manner.

Green hydrogen is produced by using renewable energy to power the electrolysis of water. Certified green hydrogen requires an emission reduction of 60 to 70 percent, depending on the certification body, below the benchmark emissions intensity threshold

Since hydrogen is being considered the fuel of the future, there is a good chance in the U.S., its uses will grow. As a fuel cell can be scaled down to be quite small or scaled up to be quite powerful, it’s likely that more than cars will be powered by them in the future.

The Simpson Ridge project will not only be producing hydrogen, but also have a fueling station to service vehicles with hydrogen. Bair considers the I-80 corridor an excellent highway for hydrogen stations to start.

“Our team has been together for 15 years and we have a lot of alliances and supporting groups as we have done projects,” Bair said. “We have been working towards this hydrogen technology project for 15 years. We are not in the business of starting something and not following through. What we are creating is huge responsibility and we know it.”

“The general approach for us, is talk less and do more,” said Cornelius (Con) Fitzgerald CFO for Bair Energy and President of CEH. “Overhyping doesn’t serve us. We have really strong global partners who are interested in us succeeding for everybody. Truly we want to do this with quiet confidence and a bit of humility.”

Bair and Fitzgerald are aware their location gets tremendous amount of snow and that the interstate shuts down often in the winter. They have made provisions for the closures and will have the ability to keep their roads open leading to the highway.

They also say they are not getting tax credits from the federal government.

“We aren’t here to grab the green money,” Fitzgerald said. “Again, we have quiet confidence in our technology and what we can do with hydrogen.”

Bair is looking forward to talking to the residents of Carbon County on April 2 and April 3.

“We are going to listen,” Bair said. “We realize there is a tremendous amount of responsibility we are taking on and there are lot of people and companies watching us. But we know how to lead and we what it takes to be successful and a key is to work with the communities involved.”   


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