Exploring Synergies:

The Hydrogen Highway Network (H2Net)
Conversion Technologies (CTs) & Biofuels
Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHG) Reduction


June 2005 


Ø  On April 20, 2004, the Governor signed Executive Order S-7-04 calling for the development of the California Hydrogen Blueprint Plan. The EO calls for:

o   Designation of CA’s 21 interstate freeways as the “California Hydrogen Highway Network.”

o   Planning & build-up of a network of H2 fueling stations along these roadways & in the urban centers they connect so that by 2010, every Californian will have access to hydrogen fuel.

o   Accelerating progress in hydrogen use through public incentives and financing mechanisms, such as general obligation bonds, or revenue bonds with repayment mechanisms; joint power agreements; and partnerships with public and private entities.

o   Promoting economic development opportunities resulting from increased utilization of hydrogen for stationary and mobile applications

(California Hydrogen Highway Blueprint Plan, May 2005)

Ø  The “Vision 2010” for California’s Hydrogen Highways is to ensure that by the end of the decade every Californian has access to hydrogen fuel along the State’s major highways, with a significant and increasing percentage of that hydrogen produced from clean, renewable sources. (California Hydrogen Highway Network Action Plan, January 2005)

Ø  Goals: The Rollout Strategy Topic Team goals, which evolved substantially during the process, were condensed to:

o   Goal 1: Identify the technologies which produce and use hydrogen, their costs, and technology readiness for the three specific phases; now, by 2010, and beyond 2010;

o   Goal 2: Establish siting criteria to implement hydrogen stations throughout California;

o   Goal 3: Develop proposals to accelerate the commercialization of hydrogen in California utilizing mobile and stationary technologies

The Production and Delivery subgroup evaluated the various options for Hydrogen production and delivery in terms of availability/industry readiness, technical and economic barriers, and environmental impacts and considerations. The focus was on production options that can eventually assure energy security and clean air for California. Both centralized and distributed production of hydrogen were considered in the comprehensive analysis. The various production options evaluated were:

o   Electrolysis,

o  Reforming (principally of methane and methanol),

o  Photobiological and photoelectrochemical,

o  Biofermentation,

o  Pyrolysis and gasification of biomass and coal; High temperature thermochemical,

o  Membranes

(Rollout Strategy Topic Team Report, CA 2010 Hydrogen Highway Network, Jan 2005)



Ø  Noncombustion thermal technologies (or conversion technologies) provide significant promise as alternatives to landfilling of solid waste. This bill [AB 2770] helps to ensure that these technologies are compatible with the goals of the [Integrated Waste Management] Act, are environmentally beneficial when compared to landfilling, and produce beneficial byproducts, including electricity, for the marketplace. … Gasification technologies use residual solid waste from which the marketable recyclable materials have been removed. Thus, these technologies reduce the amount of residual materials going to landfill. In the process, these technologies can produce clean burning fuel for the purpose of producing electricity, while having minimal environmental impact … (From the Legislative Counsel’s Digest for AB 2770, Conversion Technologies, signed into law September 20, 2002)

Ø  CIWMB Conversion Technology Life-Cycle Assessment: Conversion technologies can offer substantial benefits for California, including production of renewable energy, reduced dependency on fossil fuels, and reduction of greenhouse gases.  On a life-cycle basis, conversion technologies were found to be superior to recycling, composting, landfilling and transformation in terms of energy balance, NOx emissions, and carbon emissions.

Ø  Conversion Technologies: Development of criteria to screen and rank potential conversion technologies based on the technical and financial feasibility of siting a facility in Southern California, and on the willingness of the technology’s developers to partner with a materials recovery facility operator (or other suitable solid waste facility) in order to develop a pilot facility and subsequent full scale facility (Request For Proposals, Conversion Technology Evaluation Services, Los Angeles County Integrated Waste Management Task Force. May, 2004)

Ø  Biomass Utilization: Of the total biomass produced each year, 30 to 40 million tons are estimated to be technically feasible to collect and use in producing renewable electricity, fuels, and biobased products. About 30% of this amount could come from agriculture, 40% from forestry, and another 30% recovered from municipal sources. Additional resource exists in landfill gas and in biogas from waste-water treatment supplying up to 78 and 10 billion cubic feet per year of methane, respectively … Energy and Product Development:

o   increase use of biomass for RPS & Energy Action Plan targets for renewable electricity,

o   establishing a state Renewable Fuel Standard to increase transportation and other fuel production from renewable resources

(Biomass In California: Challenges, Opportunities, And Potentials For Sustainable Management And Development. CA Energy Commission & CA Biomass Collaborative, April 2005)

Ø  Post-Recycling Waste Conversion: Results of the first phase of this study conclude that the most suitable MRF/technology combinations are the six MRF/TS in the shortlist of facilities and thermal conversion or gasification plus ethanol production technologies. (Analysis of Most Suitable MRF/Technology Combinations, URS Final Draft Report, June 2005)



Ø       The U.S. transportation sector is responsible for one-third of our country's carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, the principal greenhouse gas contributing to global warming. Combustion of biofuels also releases CO2, but because biofuels are made from plants that just recently captured that CO2 from the atmosphere-rather than millions of years ago, that release is largely balanced by CO2 uptake for the plants' growth. The CO2 released when biomass is converted into biofuels and burned in truck or automobile engines is recaptured when new biomass is grown to produce more biofuels. The combination of reducing both gasoline use and fossil electrical production can mean close to 100% greenhouse gas emission reduction … biorefineries will use advanced technology such as hydrolysis of cellulosic biomass to sugars and lignin and thermochemical conversion of biomass to synthesis gas for fermentation and catalysis of these platform chemicals to produce slates of biopolymers and fuels. (US DOE Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Program: Biofuels, Environmental Benefits. http://www.eere.energy.gov/biomass/environmental.html  )

Ø  New industries utilizing biomass conversion technologies can help to reduce GHG precursors and net carbon by substituting for fossil fuels.  For example, ethanol blended at the current 5.7% rate reduces close to 4 million tons of CO2 per year; a 10% blend could reduce over 7 million tons per year.  Biodiesel and biodiesel blended with petroleum diesel significantly reduce particulate emissions (soot), which has been identified in a recent NASA study as a primary contributor to global climate change.  Similarly, the diversion of municipal wastes from California landfills and the adoption of animal waste conversion systems can substantially reduce fugitive CH4 emissions (CaliforniaBiomass CollaborativePolicy Committee Report, January 2004).

Ø       According to the USEPA, landfills are the largest source of human caused methane emissions. Landfills generate 34% of all human generated methane gas, the most potent greenhouse gas having 20 times the impact on global warming as CO2 as of 2004.  Landfills account for nearly twice the amount of methane gas as all natural gas operations and nearly three times that of all coal mining. (U.S.EPA Greenhouse Emissions Report).  Landfills account for more than 1350 tons per day or 22% of California statewide total organic gas (TOG) emissions, mostly as methane (CARB 2004 Emission Inventory).

Ø  On September 24, 2004 the California Air Resources Board announced that they had approved a landmark regulation that requires automakers to begin selling vehicles with reduced greenhouse gas emissions by model year 2009.

Ø  Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger announced greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction targets for California at the United Nations World Environment Day in San Francisco. The Governor signed Executive Order S-3-05 which establishes these GHG targets and charges the California Environmental Protection Agency secretary with the coordination of the oversight of efforts to achieve them.


By the Numbers …


(1)     Organic materials from municipal solid wastes, agricultural crops and by-products, and forestry residues can be converted to renewable fuels, energy and products cleanly, efficiently and economically. Feedstock is in overwhelming excess in many instances, and the environmentally sound management of that organic material by conversion into useful products can be economically self-sustaining. The residual waste available for these technologies currently being land filled is approximately 40 million tons per year, enough to generate roughly 2,300 megawatts of base-load electricity or produce more than 1 billion gallons of green fuel.

(2)     The economics of green fuels production from post-recycling waste residuals appear better than economics for "electric first" conversion technology (CT) facility design. Waste derived green fuels production can include hydrogen, ethanol, methane and methanol, biodiesel blended to ASTM specifications including but not limited to trans-esterification biodiesel, Fischer-Tropsch liquids, and ancillary emulsifiers, lubricants and acids necessary for blending biofuels. A number of local governments including the City and County of L.A. are pursuing conversion technology projects for their jurisdictions. Preliminary findings from the University of California Riverside and Davis indicate that these technologies are technically feasible and that they can meet California’s emissions standards.  Biofuel production is likely to be important in providing mechanisms to allow biomass utilization while complying with NOx emission standards, particularly in non-attainment areas.

(3)     Any syngas or bio-oil can be refined to create clean-burning green fuel. Indeed, it this "refining", this cleaning of contaminants and processing to meet accepted fuel specifications, that most distinguishes "conversion technologies" from "incineration". This relationship needs stronger emphasis. Economics for on-site conversion of gaseous and liquid intermediary products, as an additional element of processing, should be considered for each conversion technology that passes initial screening. Since decontamination is costly, it stands to reason that the more efficient the initial processing and feedstock preparation, the cleaner and more economical the resulting products.

(4)     Materials Recovery Facilities can host technologies for conversion of waste to biofuels and renewable energy, and would facilitate multi-fuel “energy station” deployment at or near the MRF. California has a state-wide integrated waste management infrastructure with a strategic network of MRFs. These visible, accessible locations could encourage the transition to biofuels for public use, facilitate fueling municipal and waste hauler fleets, and displace the MRF’s on-site diesel use with biofuels. Integration of these could include provision of power, heating, and cooling the MRF and surrounding buildings. Economics need to be assessed; by carefully planning, such "energy stations" could also reduce the life cycle cost of waste management.

(5)     Co-located production of biofuels from conversion of agricultural wastes at existing large commercial operations (such as food processing plants and dairies) and other locations where agricultural biomass (such as rice straw) can be economically aggregated would facilitate development of multi-fueling stations along rural segments of the interstate freeways that connect urban centers.  The integration of bioenergy and biofuels facilities with agricultural operations can provide onsite distributed energy, environmentally sound alternatives for waste product management, and new economic development opportunities for California agriculture.

(6)     Large-volume MRFs and large agricultural operations that currently aggregate biomass feedstocks and that could host “energy stations” are located in close proximity to interstate freeways. Developing a strategic network of co-located biorefineries at such facilities can greatly accelerate the commercialization of hydrogen in California by establishing an intermediate biofuels platform from which hydrogen can be derived. Establishment of “energy stations” offering a diversified suite of renewable fuels with immediate markets will provide greater access to private capital for infrastructure funding.

(7)     Biomass and fuels derived from biomass can be used to produce renewable hydrogen. H2 fueling may not be economical on a state-wide basis at this time, but the ability to do so is of particular interest. Multi-fuel "energy stations" that can be economically self-sustaining if created now, such as biogas, syngas, or ethanol and other liquid fuel production facilities, may be seen as "latent hydrogen stations". If and when the market demand for hydrogen increases in an area served by a MRF-based multi-fuel energy station, capital cost would be minimized for siting and permitting, for conversion of biofuels to hydrogen and installation of H2 storage, and for the addition of H2 “pumps” that can dispense fuel-grade H2 to the public.




Incorporate within the current Hydrogen Highway and Greenhouse Gas Emissions Task Force structure, further consideration of synergies between urban, agricultural and forestry integrated waste management, conversion of crops, by-products and post-recycling wastes into green fuels and hydrogen, implementation of the Hydrogen Highway, and reduction of greenhouse gases. Initial steps could include:

Compare current distribution of MRFs and large agricultural / forestry operations, with projected locations for future Hydrogen Highway energy stations.

Assess potential for each MRF and agricultural operation to host technologies for conversion of biomass into green fuels and energy, and develop an initial “best fit” of site to technology, following protocols established in LA County Task Force Alternative Technologies Assessment.

Compare the development of a stand-alone H2 fueling infrastructure vs. inclusion of H2 in an alternative fueling infrastructure (e.g. renewable diesel, ethanol and other biofuels) from various waste biomass feed-stocks.

Expand current Public Outreach messages to include utilization of non-incineration Conversion technologies. Incorporate findings and on-going assessment programs by the Integrated Waste Management Board, the University of California and the City and County of Los Angeles. Incorporate findings and on-going assessment programs by government, academic and private organizations in California related to Biomass Utilization and Conversion Technologies, emphasizing ability of non-incineration conversion technologies to produce clean-burning biofuels, including hydrogen.

Assess economics of an implementation model using expansion of California’s existing waste management, recycling and resource recovery infrastructure to incorporate conversion of biomass to green fuels, including fuel grade hydrogen. Consider aspects of vertical integration for representative conversion facilities and multi-fuel stations, including efficiencies from on-site combined heat, cooling and electricity production.

Expand the current Hydrogen Highway “roll-out plan” to consider socio-economic and environmental costs and benefits of creating self-sustaining multi-fuel “energy stations”, based on conversion of the many forms and sources of biomass. Outline a plan for expansion of multi-fuel capability, with staged addition of fuel grade hydrogen to highest priority station locations.Expand current Hydrogen Highway permit standardization and streamlining efforts to include conversion technology biofuels production facilities (biorefineries). Expand current biofuels standardization.

Increase scope of anticipated Hydrogen Highway and Greenhouse Gas Emissions reduction funding to assist in Conversion technology research, development, demonstration and on-going emissions assessment. Seek federal assistance and direct involvement. Provide state guidance and support to integrate current Hydrogen Highway and Greenhouse Gas Emissions reduction plans with on-going agency, municipality, institutional and industrial efforts toward conversion technology deployment.

Assess all options for Economics (E1), Environmental Friendliness (E2), Energy Efficiency (E3), an Evaluation (E4) of each technology’s viability, and Effectiveness (E5) (e.g. socio-political factors such as government regulations, organizational objectives, environmental stewardship and stakeholder needs).

This article is copyrighted. You are free to reprint and use it as long as no changes are made to its content or references, and credit is given to the author.

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