Finland-headed marine- and energy technology major Wärtsilä Oyj has announced that it, in collaboration with WEC Energy Group (WEC), the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), and Burns & McDonnell (B&McD), has been contracted to carry out hydrogen fuel testing at the A.J. Mihm power plant in Michigan (MI), the United States (US).
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In March 2019, Upper Michigan Energy Resources Corporation, a subsidiary of WEC Energy Group, commissioned two natural gas-fired power stations – the 121.1 MWe F. D. Kuester Generating Station in Negaunee Township near Marquette, and the 54.9 MWe A.J. Mihm Generating Station in Baraga Township near L’Anse.
All major functions in the generating stations are monitored and controlled remotely by operators from Green Bay and Milwaukee, Wisconsin (WI). Both facilities employ total remote start, stop, and loading functionality, with on-site personnel, focused on maintenance and support activities.
First blended hydrogen pilot
In January 2022, WEC Energy Group announced that it is leading a pilot project to test hydrogen as a fuel source for power generation.
The company will test co-firing hydrogen with natural gas at the A. J Mihm power plant, and according to the company, it is one of the first hydrogen power pilot programs of its kind in the United States.
We’re pleased to take a leading role in testing hydrogen in our modern natural gas-fueled generation units, said Gale Klappa, Executive Chairman of WEC Energy Group.
The project supports WEC’s ambition to reduce the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from its electric generating fleet by 60 percent by the end of 2025, by 80 percent by the end of 2030 from 2005 levels, and to be net carbon neutral by 2050.
As we bring more renewable energy online, we must ensure that we can keep the lights on when the sun is not shining and the wind is not blowing. The potential of adding hydrogen as a clean generating fuel to our fleet of dispatchable plants is an important step as we bridge to a bright, sustainable future, Gale Klappa said.
The 55 MW A.J. Mihm power plant currently operates with three Wärtsilä 50SG engines running on natural gas. The parties will aim to test fuel blends of up to 25-vol.% hydrogen mixed with natural gas, thus demonstrating the capability of the plant to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
Wärtsilä already has engine-generating sets operating successfully on a natural gas and hydrogen blend in a newbuild power plant at an offshore floating testbed in Singapore.
This will be one of the first cases where hydrogen is tested for use to reduce the carbon footprint of an existing gas-fueled power plant delivered by Wärtsilä.
The Wärtsilä engines can operate with this level of hydrogen blended with gas with little to no modification needed.
Though Wärtsilä engines can be operated on even higher hydrogen-blend levels, these tests will be restricted to the limit of 25-vol.% hydrogen for natural gas systems, according to the international equipment standard IEC/EN 60079-20-1.
These hydrogen tests reinforce the viability of the internal combustion engine as a future-proof technology that plays a key role in decarbonizing the power industry. We have long had a focus on creating solutions that enable zero-carbon power generation and are excited to begin this hydrogen testing project in the USA as a natural next step in developing our products to meet customer needs for a decarbonized future. Our engines already have the flexibility for both balancing the input of renewables into the power system and baseload generation with a continuously increasing range of fuels, commented Jon Rodriguez, Director, Engine Power Plants, Wärtsilä North America.
Tests in operational conditions
During the pilot project, hydrogen and natural gas will be blended up to a 25/75 percent blend to power one of the generating units that serve customers of Upper Michigan Energy Resources, a WEC Energy Group subsidiary.
The units use a technology known as RICE — reciprocating internal combustion engines. The engines were manufactured by technology company Wärtsilä and began service in 2019.
One engine will be selected for the test program, during which time it will continue to deliver power to the grid. For defined engine load levels, the hydrogen content within the fuel will be gradually increased to a maximum of 25-vol.%.
Measurements of the engine’s performance will be made throughout the testing. Wärtsilä has already successfully carried out engine tests at its testing facilities in Vaasa, Finland, and Bermeo, Spain, to assess the optimum engine parameters for operating with hydrogen fuel.
In addition to the A.J. Mihm power plant, Wärtsilä has also supplied WEC Energy Group with seven Wärtsilä 50SG gas engines for the F. D. Kuester power plant in Michigan.
Demonstration projects like this one are critical to advancing clean energy technologies needed to meet net-zero goals. This project will provide key insights on how this could be replicated throughout the country, providing energy companies with a suite of solutions to reduce carbon emissions. We look forward to working with WEC Energy Group and other energy stakeholders throughout the clean energy transition, said Arshad Mansoor, CEO of WEC Energy Group.
WEC Energy Group is partnering with the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), the world’s preeminent independent, non-profit energy research and development organization, driving innovation to ensure the public has clean, safe, reliable, affordable, and equitable access to electricity across the globe.
EPRI will lead the technical implementation of the project and share results to further educate the energy industry about how to successfully use hydrogen for power generation to support reducing carbon emissions.