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Could a ‘hydrogen hub’ energize Utah and the West to a cleaner future? [SL Tribune]

Copied from annoucemet from Salt Lake Tribune on April 22nd, 2022

Energy storage and long-haul transportation could be powered by the littlest atoms.

This story is part of The Salt Lake Tribune’s ongoing commitment to identify solutions to Utah’s biggest challenges through the work of the Innovation Lab.

 

Hydrogen is getting the hype these days. Does it have the hope to match?

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Renerable Innovations CEO Robert L. Mount demonstrates a mobile electric vehicle charging trailer at the company's facility in American Fork, Friday, April 15, 2022. Using hydrogen as a fuel source, the unit can provide charging in places away from the electric grid.

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Renewable Innovations CEO Robert L. Mount demonstrates a mobile electric vehicle charging trailer at the company’s facility in American Fork, Friday, April 15, 2022. Using hydrogen as a fuel source, the unit can provide charging in places away from the electric grid.

In February, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox joined governors from Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming to announce their pursuit of a federal “hydrogen hub.” The U.S. Department of Energy has allocated $8 billion to establish four such hubs as part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed last year.

“Clean hydrogen is key to cleaning up American manufacturing and slashing emissions from carbon-intensive materials like steel an

d cement while creating good-paying jobs for American workers,” U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm said when announcing the initiative.

With the DOE soon to release a detailed request for proposals, the four states have formed the “Western Inter State Hydrogen Hub”

(WISHH) with the intent of having facilities in all four states.

The first element on the periodic table, hydrogen is just a single proton and electron. But the energy stored in a molecule of two hydrogen atoms – energy that can be liberated without harmful emissions – has made hydrogen a tempting air-quality solution for decades. It burns clean or it can be converted to electricity in fuel cells, with water vapor being the only byproduct.

But to get into the nation’s energy mainstream, hydrogen has to overcome challenges to producing and transporting it. It also is a highly flammable material that requires high-pressure storage, and it has to get past public perceptions over safety.

A cave full of fuel

Hydrogen is found everywhere on earth, but it’s tied up in other materials. There is very little fuel-ready hydrogen to be tapped or mined. It must be created through a variety of processes, some cleaner than others. Those processes take energy, but much of that energy can be later retrieved. In other words, hydrogen works as a battery.

Utah may someday have the largest hydrogen battery in the world. The Intermountain Power Agency (IPA) is working to convert its coal-fired power plant near Delta into a major source of renewable electricity for Los Angeles, powering the plant with “green” hydrogen produced from solar and wind power.

That hydrogen will be stored in a massive underground salt dome below the Millard County power plant so it can be converted into electricity when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing, even months later. The four states’ letter to the Energy Department specifically mentions “favorable geology to support underground storage” as an asset that should be included in the DOE’s hub criteria.

“That is storing renewable energy in the form of green hydrogen in the spring months, where it is produced in excess due to low energy market requirements,” said Rob Webster, chief strategy officer for Magnum Development and ACES Delta, which owns the salt domes and is partnering with IPA. “This renewable energy can then be returned to the market in a variety of ways during months where requirements are peaking.”

But it will take years for IPA to get there. First it is converting the coal plant to burn a combination of natural gas and hydrogen. Over time, the plan is to reduce the natural gas as more hydrogen from renewable sources becomes available.

Powering trucks and trains

Hydrogen fuel cells have been around for years and were once seen as a promising clean-car technology. But lithium batteries have outpaced fuel cells as the alternative for passenger cars.

Bigger vehicles with longer trips will be hydrogen’s niche, says Free Reyes, executive vice president at Lancer Energy. Salt Lake City-based Lancer works with companies to convert their truck fleets from diesel to compressed natural gas, but hydrogen is a growing part of the business.

(Stadler Rail) Artist's rendering shows a hydrogen-powered train being built for Southern California by Stadler Rail. Future hydrogen trains will be built in Utah.

“Weight is 100% why hydrogen is a major factor,” says Reyes. “Today, we have heavy-duty class-8 hydrogen trucks with a range of up to 500 miles, and in 2024 we will have trucks that can go up to 900 miles

without refueling.”

And, importantly for the Wasatch Front, a hydrogen-fueled truck does not contribute air pollution.

(Stadler Rail) Artist’s rendering shows a hydrogen-powered train being built for Southern California by Stadler Rail. Future hydrogen trains will be built in Utah.

That’s also why Stadler Rail is getting into the hydrogen train business. The Swiss-based company is building a hydrogen-fueled passenger train that will run from Redlands to San Bernardino, and eventually to downtown Los Angeles, adding nothing but water vapor to Southern California’s gritty air.

That train is being built in Switzerland, but “future orders for hydrogen trains in the U.S. are expected to be manufactured here in Utah,” said Matt Sibul, director of sales and program development at Stadler’s northwest Salt Lake City plant.

Another Utah company, Renewable Innovations, is focused on providing mobile and stationary power systems to provide hydrogen-fueled electric power where there isn’t a practical way to connect to the power grid.

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) A mobile power unit that uses hydrogen for energy is on display at Renewable Innovations in American Fork, Friday, April 15, 2022.

Renewable recently announced a collaboration with General Motors to put GM’s hydrogen fuel cells in the company’s electric-vehicle charging stations and other products. The company has a truck-mounted version for charging multiple cars, which they recently demonstrated at an off-road rally that included electric cars. They also have stationary units for rapid charging stations, all powered by hydrogen.

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) A mobile power unit that uses hydrogen for energy is on display at Renewable Innovations in American Fork, Friday, April 15, 2022.

Lynn Barney, co-founder and chairman of Renewable Innovations, says the rise of electric cars is happening faster than the electric grid can keep up, particularly when rapid charging requires more powr than is available in most convenience stores and gas stations.

“The advantage we offer with hydrogen is we don’t have to wait for the grid upgrade,” said Barney.

 

 

Is hydrogen safe?

Relatively speaking, yes. It’s flammable, and it’s stored under pressure, but the same can be said for other fuels, including propane. Hydrogen requires higher pressures, meaning stronger storage tanks, but unlike fossil fuels it’s not an environmental threat if it leaks. And the DOE points out that because it’s lighter than air, leaks dissipate quickly.

Reyes from Lancer Energy credits the development of lightweight carbon-fiber tanks with making hydrogen trucks more practical. Hydrogen is less “energy dense” than natural gas, so the tanks must be higher pressure. But he says the tanks will actually outlast the trucks and will be tested and redeployed in new trucks.

And Sibul from Stadler Rail said the transit district buying their hydrogen train required that the train run all day without refueling. To do that, the train carries a large, high-pressure hydrogen tank. Sibul said the system had to go through rigorous safety testing. “We have to make absolutely sure the tanks are very strong.”

Can we make enough?

The most economical and widely used way to make hydrogen is to produce it from methane, a fossil fuel. Green hydrogen, which is produced without generating any carbon dioxide, is still more expensive and less common.

The coming refueling station at Utah Inland Port, which is promising to be the cleanest port in the nation, is part of something called Project Beehive, an effort to convert heavy vehicles in Utah to cleaner fuels. The effort includes Bayotech, a company that makes small-scale hydrogen production facilities that could be deployed at fueling stations. Bayotech’s technology is lower carbon than traditional hydrogen production, but it’s not carbon free.

Still, transition to any hydrogen power makes it easier to get all the way to carbon-free hydrogen. A gray hydrogen-fueled system can run on green hydrogen without any alterations.

So reducing the cost of green hydrogen is a crucial factor, and the federal government’s stimulus is intended to build out infrastructure to provide enough economies of scale for a green hydrogen industry to survive on its own.

Why a hydrogen hub?

So can four states that collectively cover 11% of the nation really be considered a “hub”? Here’s what the four states told the DOE:

“We believe “close proximity” should not be defined by geographic distance, but rather by the ability to economically produce and efficiently move clean hydrogen – and hydrogen-derived products – throughout the region and more broadly.”

Also noteworthy, the four states are at the heart of western fossil fuel production, where rural communities are struggling to identify a new path. The states also have an abundance of sun and wind. Combined with hydrogen storage, could those same communities one day see a brighter future?

In that respect, the IPA project outside Delta may be a model. Now coal-driven, it may one day be a sun and wind-driven, hydrogen-fueled clean-energy powerhouse.

And in coal-driven Emery County, they want to help with that future.

Combining hydrogen and natural gas is new technology, and IPA says it is seeking help with that from Emery County’s San Rafael Energy Research Center.

The research center, located just outside Orangeville, is intended to identify and develop technologies that could help Emery County maintain its economy as the nation moves away from coal-fired electricity. That includes looking opportunities around hydrogen.

“IPP will work with SRERC in solving problems specific to hydrogen conversion at a natural gas generating facility, such as grid resource and hydrogen production optimization, as well as fuel cell dynamics,” said the letter from Jon Finlinson, president and COO of Intermountain Power Service Corporation.

Jeremy Pearson, who was recently hired to run the research center, is waiting to see more specifics on the hub plan, but he sees possibilities beyond IPP.

“With hydrogen there are some uphill struggles, but the beauty of it is the low emissions and the sustainability.”

The colors of hydrogen

Hydrogen is an invisible gas, but those who work with hydrogen have developed a color spectrum to identify how it was produced.

Green hydrogen is made by using clean electricity from surplus renewable energy sources, such as solar or wind power, using an electrochemical reaction to split water into hydrogen and oxygen without producing carbon dioxide. From a clean energy standpoint, green hydrogen is the ideal.

Blue hydrogen is produced mainly from natural gas, using a process called steam reforming, which brings together natural gas and heated water in the form of steam. The output is hydrogen – but also carbon dioxide, which must be trapped and stored for the hydrogen to be considered blue.

Gray hydrogen is currently the most common form of hydrogen, and it is widely used in a variety of industrial processes. Gray hydrogen is created from natural gas, or methane, using steam methane reformation but without capturing the carbon dioxide made in the process.

Black or brown hydrogen uses black coal or lignite (brown coal) in the hydrogen-making process. Black and brown hydrogen are the least climate-friendly forms of hydrogen.

Pink Hydrogen is generated through electrolysis powered by nuclear energy. Nuclear-produced hydrogen can also be referred to as purple hydrogen or red hydrogen.

Source: nationalgrid.com

[Subscribe to SL Tribunes newsletter here]

Tim Fitzpatrick is The Salt Lake Tribune’s renewable energy reporter, a position funded by a grant from Rocky Mountain Power. The Tribune retains all control over editorial decisions independent of Rocky Mountain Power.

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Competitive Programs FY2022 Notice of Funding: Low or No Emission and Grants for Buses and Bus Facilities

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Utah, 3 other states agree on hydrogen hub; seek portion of $8B in federal funds

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Atlas Disposal Makes Investment of Over $5 million in Cleaner Air Technologies

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UCC Joins Nationwide Call for Investment in Clean Fuels and Vehicles at Energy Independence Summit 2022

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Sandy City Launches Sustainable Sandy Initiative; Unveils New EV Chargers

Learn more about the rollout of EV chargers throughout Sandy City!

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The Case for Electric School Buses

What first comes to mind when you think about school bus transportation? Perhaps it’s the orange or yellow color, the sound of one passing by your home, or the dot moving on the map on your phone as you watch your child’s commute to school. What may not yet come to mind, however, is a quiet, emissions-free electric school bus.

Since school buses transport millions of students to and from school every day throughout the school year, they may be the most critical vehicles on the road. What if there was a way to make their commute safer, healthier, and more efficient? There may be, and per the benefits, we explore below, the answer may point to electric school buses.

Improved Health and Safety

  • Cleaner Air for Passengers

According to an article by Environmental Defense, exposure to various pollutants from inside a diesel school bus is five to six times greater than ambient levels and three times higher than someone walking to school. The exposure to pollutants inside the bus, called self-pollution, occurs because the bus’s tailpipe emissions are reentering into the cabin. Because there are no tailpipe emissions on electric vehicles, an electric bus’s air quality inside (and outside) is significantly improved.

  • Reduced Health Risk

Electric school buses may reduce asthma symptoms and other respiratory issues since they do not emit exhaust. However, air pollutants such as diesel exhaust can trigger or worsen asthma attacks. Another scary condition to which diesel exhaust is a contributor is cancer. Diesel exhaust is internationally recognized as a carcinogen and recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a substance that likely causes cancer.

  • More Reliable Transportation

Electric vehicles have fewer moving parts; therefore, there are fewer parts to deteriorate or break. This can mean that electric buses are more reliable, especially for longer bus routes and traffic considerations.

  • Quieter Commute

Electric vehicles are much quieter than gas or diesel-powered vehicles, making the inside of buses less noisy as well. Driving a quieter school bus could mean that bus drivers can better hear and communicate with students and better hear their surroundings (such as a siren).
Environmental Benefits

  • Cleaner Air

Exchanging one diesel school bus with an electric school bus can lower greenhouse gas emissions by over 50,000 pounds per year. The air quality of an area dramatically improves with the lack of diesel fuel exhaust emissions. Cleaner air benefits other commuters, surrounding plants and wildlife, and the community.

  • Quieter Roadways

Since electric vehicles don’t make much noise, they don’t contribute to the nuisance of “noise pollution.” Noise pollution is any environmental noise that is unwanted and disturbing. Traffic and regular vehicles fall into this category.

  • Continuously Lessening the Environmental Impact

While pollution is created in producing electric vehicles, the amount varies depending on the process, company, location, and other factors. Manufacturers are continuously finding new ways to produce and operate electric vehicles more cleanly and efficiently. This also includes the electric grids from which the batteries are charged.

Lower Operation Cost

  • Better “Gas” Mileage

Electric school buses require less energy and cost to operate. If you compare an electric school bus’s “gas mileage” to that of a diesel school bus, electric gets the equivalent of 17 miles per gallon, while the diesel gets approximately 6 miles per gallon. Additionally, electricity is less expensive than diesel fuel and has more predictable prices.

  • Less Maintenance Cost

Gas and diesel-powered vehicles require frequent maintenance such as oil changes and tune-ups and component replacements such as the water pump and fuel pump. However, since electric vehicles don’t need much maintenance, the maintenance cost savings of an electric school bus versus a diesel school bus is nearly 60%. The operation cost savings can offset the initial investment of an electric school bus, which is more than that of a diesel school bus.

  • Healthcare Savings

By reducing air pollution, moving to electric vehicles is expected to create significant savings in overall healthcare.

Other Benefits and FAQ’s

How long will the electric batteries in electric buses last?

The electric batteries are expected to last for the life of the bus or about 12-15 years.

What happens with the battery after it can no longer be used?

Most electric school buses will use a lithium-ion battery which can be recycled after use.

Will an electric school bus be able to complete a bus route before needing to charge again?

A typical school bus route one-way is 30-40 miles. The electric school buses can travel between 100-135 miles between charges, giving more than enough energy to complete a daily route.

How long does it take to charge the bus’s battery fully?

It depends on the bus and the size of the charging station, though it typically takes about 6-8 hours. This timeframe makes overnight charging convenient for schools.

What about all the other diesel and gas cars on the road?

While we can’t control the types of transportation citizens use, communities can choose the type of transportation their schools operate.

Electric school buses are quickly becoming a priority for cities and government officials, and with the long list of advantages, they may become a priority for parents as well. As electric vehicles become more common, the benefits of electric school buses on the health of children and communities, safety, lower long-term costs for schools are becoming more apparent.

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DOE Funds EMPOWER Workplace Charging Project

Press Release from Tennessee Clean Fuels: 

empower header

On Nov. 1, 2021, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Vehicle Technologies Office announced the winners of the FY’21 “Low Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Vehicle Technologies Research, Development, Demonstration and Deployment” funding opportunity. Included in this year’s round was a Topic Area of “Electric Vehicle Workplace Charging.” One of the announced winners was the Columbia-Willamette Clean Cities Coalition (CWCC) and their EMPOWER proposal – “Equitable Mobility Powering Opportunities for Workplace Electrification Readiness.”

Leveraging their experience with the Drive Electric USA program, East Tennessee Clean Fuels is providing administrative support and project management guidance for the EMPOWER program.

This proposal included 30 DOE Clean Cities Coalitions as a large workforce that would lead the boots-on-the-ground implementation of a new national workplace charging alliance. The work will begin with a year’s convening of diverse transportation electrification representatives that will share experience, listen and craft a program that will encourage participation by workplaces in diverse communities across America.

“This project offers a great opportunity for Clean Cities Coalitions to listen to the communities we work within and find out how workplace charging could benefit them,” Brian Trice, Executive Director of CWCC, said.

The project aims to…

“… reach upwards of 2,000 employers and secure at least 650 employer commitments to install and support workplace charging programming, and 3,500 installed EVSE/units at employer sites. Additionally, our goal is to end up with at least 20% of our employer commitments from diverse employers in qualified opportunities zones that benefit underserved communities and people of color. Participating workplaces will provide critical feedback on our workplace charging resources as we produce them, allowing us to continually improve our program system and materials during the project period. This feedback loop is a critical part of the successful development of a national workplace charging program that is both effective and user-friendly.”

The EMPOWER project will accelerate the interest and support for workplace charging nationwide using a national landing page/funnel and website that will house our tools, resources and information, along with consistent messaging, tactics and coordination with national data and utility partners. This project has a primary goal of advancing employer commitments for workplace charging programs and installations. Secondary goals include collecting and advancing electric vehicle charging research and increasing career pathways in the EV charging industry for underrepresented communities.empower leader logos jpg 1030x585

“We are looking forward to engaging directly with unrepresented and overburdened communities through this project,” Jonathan Overly, Coordinator of ETCF, said. “We will be listening to what these communities have to say about electric vehicle infrastructure in their communities and considering it as this project progresses.”

Major project partners working with CWCC include Cadeo Group, East Tennessee Clean Fuels (ETCF), Louisiana Clean Fuels (LCF),  ICF InternationalShift2Electric, Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA), National Rural Electric  Cooperative Association (NRECA), Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Training Program (EVITP), Cerritos CollegeWashington State Department of Commerce, American Lung Association (ALA), the University of Tennessee at Knoxville (UTK), Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).

empower utilities logos jpg 1030x518

The project also has charging provider partners that include Siemens and Chargepoint and the following diverse utilities: ComEdAlabama PowerEntergyEversource, Memphis Light Gas & Water (MLGW), OK Gas & Electric (OG&E), Northern Indiana Public Service Company (NIPSCO), Green Mountain Power (GMP), Baltimore Gas & Electric (BGE), Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), Avangrid, Electric Power Board of Chattanooga (EPB), Pepco Holdings, Western Farmers Electric Cooperative (WFEC), Central Maine Power (CMP), Knoxville Utility Board (KUB), Rocky Mountain PowerBurlington Electric Department, Portland General Electric (PGE), Southwestern Electric Power Company (SWEPCO) and Kentucky Power.

The project team is receiving $3,970,539 in federal funds while providing over $1,000,000 in cost share from non-federal sources.

Read on below to learn more about the project!

Want to contact the project leadership? Email empower@cwcleancities.org.


The EMPOWER project will build on our team’s learned understanding of workplace charging as well as the management of complex federal projects. We are utilizing a similar management structure in the coordination of our more than 30 Clean Cities Coalition partners and employing “regional Captains” based on the U.S. DOE’s geographic delineation. These regional Coalition Captains will be responsible for oversight and assistance to their underlying Coalitions, channeling two-way communications from the Strategic Advisory Team (SAT) to Coalitions and from the Coalitions to the SAT, resource deployment and ensuring that support is available when needed.

With a) parts of the country exceeding 5% electric vehicle market share, b) many new plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) options becoming available and c) many states starting to develop statewide Drive Electric partnerships and programs (e.g., see the DRIVE Electric USA initiative), this national workplace charging collaboration is important at this critical time of market inflection.

Workplace charging helps with employee recruitment and retention; offering plug-in access at work also proves an organization’s credibility when talking about sustainability efforts. Other benefits of workplace charging need further research and will be part of our program’s evaluation. Reliable access to a charging station at home remains a barrier that prevents many drivers from owning a plug-in vehicle. Workplace charging can provide a pathway for plug-in ownership for those considering an EV who live in apartments, condominiums or otherwise do not have access to an overnight charging station.

Workplace charging can affect large swathes of our community and directly affect many new EV owners, plug-in hybrid owners and a growing used-EV-owner populace.

An essential facet of our program design will be the diversity, equity and inclusion lens in place for all facets of this project. We will be looking at our team’s makeup, how we promote the program and the emphasis we make on our outreach to make a determined effort to fairly advance the benefits of transportation electrification where it will have the most significant AND most diverse impact.

Workplace charging is also increasingly seen as a value to electric utilities. Utility program administrators are forecasting the value of frequency regulation, load following and load shifting grid interactions with EVSE and EVs. Workplace charging can flatten the curve of demand by charging mid-day and lessening the extra evening demand during what is typically a peak evening event.

The EMPOWER project team understands the potential of our energy resilience and is collaborating with ORNL and the PNNL to help ensure that data from this project can inform national laboratory research and tools. This project will provide consistency for workplace charging resources and valuable research to continue evaluating the many associated variables of these programs and create a long-term plan to support a framework for communication and support for key market actors. There can be many regional differences that may affect how an employer or utility may respond to workplace charging programming – our resource package will allow for localization to help ensure that partners feel comfortable approaching their key stakeholders.

The Clean Cities Coalitions that will be part of the initiative include (listed from West Coast to East Coast):

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The infrastructure bill could make Utah a leader in alternative fuels

Posted on Tuesday, November 16, 2021

By Leia Larsen, The Salt Lake Tribune

SALT LAKE CITY — President Joe Biden’s Monday signature on a massive $1.2 trillion infrastructure deal may reengineer the way people and goods move around Utah, while also tapping the brakes on the trajectory of the climate crisis.

The House of Representatives passed the Senate’s version of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act on Nov. 5, legislation negotiated with a bipartisan group of lawmakers including Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah). Road and bridge repair will get one of the biggest buckets of spending, with $110 billion dedicated to those projects and $3 billion alone going to Utah.

“It’s still early, very early, in terms of our understanding of exactly what’s in the bill,” warned Tallis Blalack, with Utah State University’s ASPIRE Research Center. “And more importantly, how what’s in there is going to be implemented.”

State agencies await guidance and clarification for how the infrastructure money can be applied for and spent. But it’s clear big investments lie ahead in many facets of transportation — $66 billion will go to rail projects throughout the nation, $17 billion is set aside for ports (including inland ports) and $7.5 billion is dedicated to electric vehicles, to name just a few examples.

Here, industry experts weigh in on how Utah can leverage the infrastructure deal’s funds and go beyond just patching potholes to transforming transportation in the state.

A ‘futuristic’ inland port

The Utah Inland Port Authority already has a plan in place to hire people dedicated to applying for Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act grants, according to port director Jack Hedge, in order to build a “21st Century port.”

“About 40% of the nation’s goods move through Utah annually,” Hedge said. “So I think we can make a really good case for maybe a bigger slice of the pie than we might otherwise be entitled to.”

Those funds won’t be used to build projects the port authority has already shared with the public, like the transloading facility and expanded rail access, he said.

“I see it more as being some of these things that are a little more difficult to make a business case for. For example, renewable fuels,” Hedge said. “To build that infrastructure out becomes a chicken-or-egg question. Grant monies can help build the chicken so we can get the eggs.”

The port director said he’s particularly excited about the $65 billion the infrastructure plan dedicates to broadband. The port authority is currently partnering with Intel, Athonet, QuayChain and Wireless Industrial Group to build an “Intelligent Crossroads Network” at the port, a private 5G network that provides rapid information about the supply chain and makes moving cargo more efficient.

“There’s not a lot of good data points for where your cargo is, how it’s moving, whose truck it’s on,” Hedge said. “Our network will help provide the platform for that data to be available.”

The network could also support automation and autonomous vehicles in the future, he added. And the infrastructure bill’s timing is particularly good for Utah, since its port is largely just on the cusp of its construction.

“The portions of the port still to be developed, we can develop as this state-of-the-art, really futuristic view of how to build ports,” Hedge said, “whereas if you’re talking about a 100-year-old port, like Los Angeles, you’ve got a lot of existing infrastructure you’ve got to tear up and replace.”

Utah’s inland port remains controversial, however, and the port authority is locked in a lawsuit with Salt Lake City that sits before the Utah Supreme Court. Since its formation in 2018, opponents of the inland port have complained about the authority’s lack of transparency. Its plans for projects like the transloading facility and the Intelligent Crossroads Network continue to be vague.

Deeda Seed, with the Stop the Polluting Port Coalition, said she’s concerned infrastructure funds will be used to bring more truck traffic, climate-altering emissions and air pollution to the Wasatch Front.

“We’re in the situation where we have to see what the port authority proposes before we can respond,” Seed said. “Right now, as with everything, they give the public such incomplete information that it makes it hard for us to do the kind of robust analysis that we would like to do.”

A big rig revolution

Also at the inland port, researchers at Utah State University are ramping up to demonstrate groundbreaking technology for semi trucks, and the infrastructure deal could further drive those efforts.

An influx of diesel emissions-spewing trucks is the source of many anxieties about the growing inland port, but USU’s ASPIRE Center — which stands for Advancing Sustainability through Powered Infrastructure for Roadway Electrification — is set to demonstrate a wireless charging network and potentially make Utah an epicenter of electrified transportation.

“A lot of our focus is on how do we electrify heavy duty vehicles?” said Blalack, ASPIRE’s managing director. “That’s one of the biggest challenges we have for the nation and for the world.”

The reason electric cars like Teslas and Nissan Leafs are a common sight on daily commutes, but electric big rigs are pretty much nonexistent, is because electric trucks are both expensive and the batteries are heavy. To cover a 500-mile range, a semi would need a unit that costs more than $100,000 and weighs 20,000 pounds.

Given that loaded rigs can’t weigh more than 80,000 pounds, those batteries limit the amount of cargo a truck can haul. But ASPIRE is working on wireless rapid chargers for trucks, similar to the cordless devices used to re-juice mobile phones.

“A semi driver will be able to pull over during a mandatory lunch break,” Blalack said, “and get enough charge in that half hour to do the full route.”

Eventually, the group wants to incorporate that technology into the road pavement itself so both truckers and commuters can charge while they drive, which would lower the price tag of electric vehicles for everyone, Blalack said. Instead of those huge 500-mile range batteries, trucks could get by on smaller and cheaper 50-mile ones.

The Utah Legislature allocated $5 million for ASPIRE’s program at the inland port, called the “Freight Logistics Electrification Demonstration Project,” and has signaled it will eventually dedicate $20 million to the pilot.

“Hopefully, we’ll be able to get significant matching funds from the infrastructure bill,” Blalack said. “This is going to end up being a very good investment by the state, as we’re able to prove out these technologies and prove Utah as a leader in the nation for electrification.”

And the inland port project, set to begin construction in 2023, is just the first phase of building that electrified network.

“Ultimately, we want to see an electric corridor from Provo to Ogden,” Blalack said.

A more equitable transportation system

The biggest chunk of the infrastructure deal will help patch crumbling streets, which is right up Blyncsy CEO Mark Pittman’s alley. The Salt Lake City-based tech firm recently launched a pilot program with the Utah Department of Transportation to use its Payver A.I. software in detecting road hazards and issues in need of repair.

But Pittman said what interests him most about the infrastructure bill is the chance to build a more equitable transportation system.

“This is a slog of money to fix all the bridges that weren’t up to date, to build the roads that we need to build … so it should move us critically forward,” he said. “My concern is what happens after.”

The infrastructure deal is set to improve the lives of low-income and minority communities by expanding services like broadband and finally delivering running water to the Navajo Nation. Utah also has a chance to improve connectivity and transform underserved areas by adding things as basic as sidewalks and bike lanes, Pittman said.

“We have lots of areas, particularly from a transit perspective, across this country where low-income populations are effectively forced to own cars,” Pittman said, “and the bill is looking to help right those types of wrongs.”

The federal Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) grant program will get an additional a $7.5 billion through the infrastructure deal. RAISE has supported transportation projects like rapid bus lines to low-income neighborhoods in Alabama and the removal of a freeway that destroyed a once-thriving Black community in Detroit.

Congress has spent $8.9 billion on RAISE since its inception in 2009, so the infrastructure bill’s investment represents a significant boost.

And the president has directed that 40% of federal climate and clean energy spending should go to disadvantaged communities through the Justice40 Initiative.

Data that Pittman collects can show that low-income neighborhoods are prone to unsafe road conditions, or poor access to transit, he said, where those infrastructure dollars are badly needed.

“This can be based on a bunch of things, right?” Pittman said. “… But often we suspect a lot of it is that wealthier areas probably complain more. They donate to [politicians], their voices are elevated in ways that the other areas can’t be.”

The federal infrastructure plan also invests $5 billion to reduce crashes and conflicts with bicyclists and pedestrians through a Safe Streets For All program, which could further transform Utah’s streets into safer and more equitable spaces, Pittman said.

“We’re working really extensively and using our data detectors to find examples where there’s pedestrians and cars in conflict zones and use that to make investment in safety” with infrastructure like improved street lights, barriers and reflective paint, Pittman said.

A supercharged EV network and alternative fuels hub

The billions set to build out the nation’s electric vehicle infrastructure are bound to have an impact on Utah as well, particularly because the funds focus on rural areas.

Rocky Mountain Power recently announced a $50 million investment to add around 20 EV “extreme fast chargers” across the state. Utah can leverage that money to get more federal infrastructure funds to add even more chargers to the network, including in remote areas, according to Josh Craft with Utah Clean Energy.

That means more people will be willing to buy electric vehicles versus combustion engine cars, because “they’ll have the confidence and knowledge they can get to a charger when they need it,” Craft said.

Beyond electric vehicles, Utah is in a good position to become a leader in alternative fuels with the help of infrastructure funds. Craft noted an effort at the Intermountain Power Project in Delta exploring green hydrogen technology.

The plant, which sends most of its power to California, will stop using coal by 2025. It intends to convert to a mix of hydrogen and natural gas, eventually generating 100% of its electricity from “clean” hydrogen that uses renewables like wind or solar to harvest hydrogen from water molecules.

“It’s new, and green hydrogen is currently expensive in terms of delivered power,” Craft said. “But there are a lot of opportunities with national funds to drive down those costs.”

Lawmakers have dedicated $8 billion to create at least four sites that can demonstrate production and storage of clean hydrogen. The Intermountain Power Plant is next door to huge salt domes that happen to be ideal natural vessels for storing hydrogen, making it a good candidate for the funds.

“There will be opportunities to sell that [hydrogen] across the West, including to Utah customers,” Craft said. “It’s a [chance] for us to be on the leading edge of an energy hub.”

The hydrogen project at the Intermountain plant, called Advanced Clean Energy Storage, is largely focused on producing electricity. But hydrogen as an alternative fuel for vehicles is another big push in the infrastructure deal, and the massive oil and gas company Chevron Corp. recently signaled its interest in becoming an investor in the Delta effort, alongside Mitsubishi Power Americas and Magnum Development.

“We’re excited that Congress has taken the first step … in not only upgrading our infrastructure, but doing it in a way that’s mindful of our energy transition and climate change,” Craft said.