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Renville Co., Minn., could host first major project to use wind power to produce hydrogen

Turbines that are part of the Danielson Wind project in Meeker County have been producing electricity since March 2011. Norfolk Wind Energy is seeking to erect similar wind turbines in Renville County to produce electricity for sale on the grid and to use electricity generated during off-peak periods to produce hydrogen for sale to industrial customers. Tribune file photo

BIRD ISLAND — Renville County could become host to the first large-scale commercial project to produce hydrogen from wind in the U.S.

Norfolk Wind Energy of Bird Island and Emerald H2 of Minneapolis entered into an agreement to develop the project, the companies announced Monday.

Norfolk Wind Energy is a community wind project of farmers and landowners in the area south of Bird Island. They are seeking to erect wind turbines with a capacity to produce 40 megawatts of electricity, with the opportunity to eventually expand to 100 megawatts, according to Dave Scheibel of Bird Island, its founder and president.

Emerald H2 of Minneapolis holds rights to a technology that is believed to be more efficient at using electricity to produce hydrogen from water than systems now in use, according to Scheibel.

Norfolk Wind would use electricity generated by the wind during periods of time where there is low electrical demand to produce hydrogen, said Scheibel. Electricity produced during other periods would be transmitted to the grid and sold to a utility customer.

The proposed project would be the first to demonstrate whether hydrogen can be produced from wind-produced electricity on a large scale. The proposed project would include a capacity for using 10 megawatts of wind-generated electricity to produce 500,000 kilograms of hydrogen.

Emerald H2 and Norfolk Wind are currently in discussions with a distributor to sell the hydrogen to industrial customers within a 100- to 150-mile radius of Bird Island. Hydrogen is used in a wide range of industrial applications, from oil refining and altering stainless steel to producing polymers, solvents and even the fats for margarine.

If this proves viable, Scheibel said the hope here is to eventually use the hydrogen to make anhydrous ammonia. In effect, Renville County farmers would be taking advantage of the winds blowing over their crops to produce the fertilizer they use on them.

Anhydrous ammonia for fertilizer is currently made from natural gas.

Scheibel said Norfolk Wind is hoping to have its permitting and financing processes completed this summer. Work on erecting the first towers could begin late this year, he said.

Norfolk Wind has agreements covering 5,000 acres of land to erect towers.

The Bird Island location provides the company with an economical access point to the electrical grid, and was the basis for starting the community wind venture.

“We’re optimistic, but like I said, we’ve got a little way to go yet,’’ said Scheibel of the venture.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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