September 25, 2022
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Infrastructure group hires consultant, pitches hydrogen hub

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Julie Linck, chief administrator of environment for the Arkansas Department of Energy and Environment, recently provided updates about the committee making recommendations on using the federal infrastructure money available to the state.

Linck was a guest speaker at the Quarterly Charge event hosted by the Arkansas Advanced Energy Association. She’s one of the 18 members of Gov. Asa Hutchison’s Infrastructure Planning Advisory Committee, which was created following the approval of the $1.2 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

Linck said the committee recently hired consultant Deloitte to help apply for the money.

“We’ve hired them for comprehensive consulting because … the governor doesn’t want to leave any money on the table … and that we work with our agencies and our stakeholders if there are partnerships needed to leverage the money in different ways,” she said. “We also want to make sure we’re not spinning our wheels on things that aren’t germane to Arkansas.”

She said that $10 million was made available to support electric vehicle projects in the state, but state legislators only appropriated $200,000 of that amount. She said the legislators were concerned about becoming involved with federal money.

Still, she said Arkansas is essential for completing a nationwide electric vehicle infrastructure plan. Linck noted that Oklahoma’s most lucrative charging station is in a rural community, and no one within that county owns an electric vehicle.

“We can make money off … electric vehicle hubs without everybody getting on their Birkenstocks and moving to California,” she said. “It’s a great rural economic driver.”

In the next 12 months, she said about $8 billion would be appropriated for hydrogen hubs. The money comes from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law as a federal energy and transportation department project. Linck said the federal agencies preferred hub proposals that included multiple states.

“We have partnered with Louisiana and Oklahoma to pitch a hub of our own,” she said. “We’ve named it the HALO [Hydrogen, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma] Hub.”

She noted that the hub isn’t a brick-and-mortar site. It’s a concept for which up to $8 billion is available at a 50% match for demonstrative uses of hydrogen in the transportation and manufacturing sectors, especially steel.

She recently returned from Washington, D.C., after meeting with federal transportation officials about the proposal. The leading contenders for hydrogen hubs had comprised proposals from western states.

“They’re running scared now because we have the qualities they don’t have,” she said. “One is the industry in Arkansas, Walmart [and] Tyson [Foods] … As of last month, we [Arkansas] are the largest steel producer in the United States.”

Linck is reaching out to companies to see who would like to be early adopters in the hydrogen hub. She’s met with Big River Steel and Chevron Corp. and has meetings set with Walmart.

Lisa Perry, a senior manager on the utilities team for the energy department at Walmart, said the use of hydrogen is something the Bentonville retailer is working to have available at its distribution centers as it looks to reduce emissions. She said the retailer aims to be 100% carbon-free by 2040 without using offsets. This fall, the company plans to test a hydrogen yard truck.

Perry said the company also is looking at hydrogen fuel cell trucks as an alternative to battery-electric trucks. The hydrogen trucks have longer ranges, and the refueling time is shorter.

“We’re very excited about the hydrogen hub because the question is we still have to find ways to refuel these trucks, not just at a distribution center but as they’re traveling throughout the United States,” she said. “The hydrogen hub will be very critical for us to do that.”

Linck said if the hub receives the federal money, it could be used for specific technology investments in the three states. She said the investments could allow for the use of hydrogen at scale and possibly include incentives for its use to make it more economical than natural gas. Currently, she said the use of hydrogen is more expensive than natural gas unless it’s scaled.



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