Hydrogen gas production plant to be built here

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

A federal grant awarded last week will help create a new hydrogen production facility in Elmore County.

The prototype facility, which could be expanded considerably in the future, will cost less than a million dollars to start up, and will sell its product to a Boise commercial gas company.

The hydrogen-generation plant will be built by Idaho Synthetic Energy, Inc., of Ketchum, at a site located of Simco Road. The company has 160 acres of land for future expansion, but the initial plant will involve less than two acres.

The United States is increasingly trying to move to a hydrogen-based energy system (such as fuel-cell powered cars), rather than a petroleum-based system, but so far most of the uses for hydrogen remain in a variety of manufacturing processes, such as glass and chip manufacturing.

The unidentified Boise company that will be buying the hydrogren has been acquiring its hydrogen in the past from Canadian sources "but in the event that fuel cells take off our customer wants to be positioned to take advantage of that," said Thomas Griffith, president of Idaho Synthetic Energy (ISE).

The $200,000 Department of Energy Renewable Energy Grant will help the company develop a wind-turbine electrical generating system that, in conjuction with electricity from traditional sources, will be used to separate hydrogen from water. Water is composed of two atoms of hydrogen, and one atom of oxygen. Electricity can break the bonds of a water molecule, creating the two gases, hydrogen and oxygen. At present, the ISE system will only attempt to recover the hydrogen, releasing the oxygen, although in the future ISE may also attempt to store the oxygen as well.

One quarter to one-third of the electicity used will come from the wind turbines ISE will set up on the site, which is just south of the Lewandowski wind farm between Boise and Mountain home.

The water used to create the hydrogen will be trucked in from a cistern the company has about two miles away from the plant. The plant will use about 100 gallons of water a day and will fill a tank truck with the flammable gas biweekly.

The entire plant will be completely automated, including its security. The Boise customer will simply pick up the truck when it is filled and replace it with another truck.

The gas is stored in a gaseous, not liquid, form, at about 3,000 psi.

Liquid hydrogen, which must be supercooled to remain in that state, is usually produced from natural gas, not the water-electrolysis method being used by ISE.

The plant is the first of its type in the United States.

Griffith said that his company also is looking into developing a partnership with BSU to create a renewable energy research campus on the site, but those discussions are only in the preliminary stage.

The county has approved the conditional use permit for a 150-foot tall 50kw wind turbine at the site, which is on land zoned M-2.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: