Northwestern New Mexico, for decades a leader in the Southwestern oil and gas industry, is now attempting to lead a transition away from fossil fuels with innovative hydrogen and hydroelectric energy.
Four Corners Economic Development is working on a number of energy initiatives, including a pump storage hydroelectric project on the Navajo Nation near Red Valley at the Arizona state line.
And Process Equipment and Services Co. of Farmington has partnered with BayoTech of Albuquerque to build a state-of-the-art hydrogen reactor and is building a commercial hydrogen fuel cell for a BayoTech customer in St. Louis, using technology developed at Sandia National Labs in Albuquerque.
Arvin Trujillo, CEO of 4CED, said the hydroelectric storage facility would utilize two reservoirs, one at the top of the Carrizo mountains and another at the foothills. Water would be pumped to the upper reservoir, and a spillway would connect the two.
“Between the two reservoirs, we’re going to put an underground power plant,” he said. “We’ll be able to generate up to 1,500 megawatts for 70 hours.”
Kinetic Power of Santa Fe, which came up with the idea, has been looking for favorable geological sites for such a project. 4CED has been working with Kinetic on design for the past 3½ years, and topographical and mapping work has been done. Now, surveying must follow.
The partners plan to use renewable energy – from the sun and the spillway itself – to pump the water. After sunset, the spillway would open, allowing water to turn turbines and generate energy. The 20-foot spillway pipe will travel 9 to 10 miles.
“We’re hoping to start the surveying work and start things going this year,” Trujillo said.
said they have initial approval from the Navajo Nation to survey some of the designated areas, “so now we need to go further and get cooperative agreements in place.”
Trujillo, who was a mining engineer, said some of the pipeline will be more than 3,000 feet in depth, with a steep angle and descent from top to bottom. It could be operational in eight to 10 years.
With both the San Juan Generating Station and the mine totally shut down, along with the carbon sequestration and storage project using coal with Enchant Energy, this one may take the lead in the energy transition effort.
Trujillo has focused on the transition from fossil fuel since becoming CEO of 4CED in 2019, trying to create partnerships to determine which economic areas should be developed.
He has worked for Broken Hill Proprietary Co., as director of the Navajo Nation’s division for natural resources, and in outreach for the Arizona Public Service utility. He has an undergraduate degree in biochemistry and a graduate degree in mineral processing.
The Hydrogen Hub demonstration project, with Navajo Agricultural Products Inc. in the lead, is based in Santa Fe. Trujillo said they are seeking grant funding from the Department of Energy, which has allocated $9.5 billion toward energy hubs. The Western Interstate Hydrogen Hub is part of a coalition made up of New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. The governors of each state signed a memorandum of understanding to form the quasi-governmental hub, Trujillo said. They compete with other hubs in the U.S. for energy transition and alternative fuels grants.
“We finished a recent study looking at the assets of San Juan County … we got targeted industries we’re looking at now,” including manufacturing, energy, health care, outdoor recreation, tourism-capture and agriculture.
He said Process Equipment and Services Co. has partnered with BayoTech of Albuquerque to build a state-of-the-art hydrogen reactor in Farmington. John Byrom, business development manager for PESCO, said they have returned to pre-COVID staffing of about 470 employees.
“Traditionally what we’ve done is build process equipment,” Byrom said. “We handle the fluids, natural gas, waters and oils that come out of the well bore.” These are separated and treated so they can be piped to market or stored.
PESCO makes various sizes of steel pressure vessels with extensive piping, control valves and computerized controls, mostly for oil and gas. The vessels, which Byrom said resemble propane tanks, are made of carbon or stainless steel and coated inside with epoxy to prevent corrosion. Rolls of steel are shipped in from Denver or Houston and manufactured in Farmington at 5680 U.S. Highway 64.
PESCO, founded in 1970 by Ed and Mary Lou Rhodes, employs about 200 welders, “some of the best in the West,” Byrom said. They’re certified under Section 8, pressure vessel code, an international standard of quality and safety.
Ed Rhodes’ sons, President and CEO Kyle Rhodes and Vice President Jim Rhodes, have worked closely with the BayoTech, as its primary supplier for its pilot plant, “a highly efficient model of local hydrogen production hubs.”
Byrom said the hydrogen reactor uses a process called “steam methane reforming,” which takes in methane and water to produce hydrogen. He said the unit can source methane anywhere – “that’s the advantage of this unit” – and the modular unit’s technology has been used for years but in large plants, chemical plant settings, mostly along the Gulf Coast.”
The hydrogen is used for chemical processing to make other chemicals and “to increase the grade of their gas.” The plants are stories tall and take up half a city block, Byrom said.
However, BayoTech has created modular units that can be assembled on location. The demand for hydrogen as a fuel has emerged because when hydrogen burns it just creates water vapor, according to Byrom. He said Toyota and BMW are developing the hydrogen cell for vehicles, and an Albuquerque firm is developing one for aircraft.
“So this is creating a new market where you need hydrogen kind of all across the country,” Byrom said. One of the big advantages is the weight factor of hydrogen when compared with the extreme weight and density of an electric car battery. Compressed hydrogen becomes the stored energy source for the electric motor. The hydrogen is pumped through the fuel cell to create electricity, he said.
Instead of a combustion engine with pistons, it’s more of a “thermoelectric process,” he said. In a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, an ion exchange produces electricity … and water vapor comes out of the tailpipes, he said.
The massive battery weight in electric vehicles make their use unfeasible for big trucks, where the gross vehicle weight would exceed legal limits. The same applies for aircraft in terms of potential range, he said.
Companies are developing hydrogen fuel cell retrofit technology for diesel-powered vehicles that “will allow them to burn from 40% to 90% hydrogen. These diesel-hydrogen hybrids use special injectors to burn hydrogen, which reduce emissions.
Byrom said this development is “more immediate,” whereas fuel cells are farther down the road.
“These units can be put anywhere you have a natural gas supply,” Byrom said. Natural gas, boiled water to create steam and the electricity to power the control systems to “strip the hydrogen out of the mixture – are the required components.
Although carbon dioxide is a byproduct of hydrogen production, Byrom is looking “to capture that CO2 and do other things with it, to reduce it or eliminate it.”
BayoTech is working to create bio-sourced methane from animal waste and landfills. Byrom said they are also developing a hydrogen fuel cell generator for job sites, camping or other applications.
PESCO is building the first commercial unit of the hydrogen fuel cell for a BayoTech customer in St. Louis, using technology developed at Sandia National Labs in Albuquerque.
“We’ve easily created about 20 more jobs already,” Byrom said. “We’re hoping that things go well at BayoTech and they expand their volumes, where we can be building many, many of these per year … where we have 100 to 200 employees working on that line.”
“We’ve got about 15 in-house engineers. We can manufacture, we can design. That’s why BayoTech was a good match for us, because the expertise we brought to the table was exactly what they needed,” he said.
“It allows us to move beyond oil and gas, which is one of our strategic objectives.”