Viewscapes

The future of hydrogen fuel and a Seattle DJ

July 08, 2021 Washington State Magazine Season 1 Episode 8
Viewscapes
The future of hydrogen fuel and a Seattle DJ
Show Notes Transcript

Hydrogen fuel is emerging as a major part of the future fuel mix. Washington State University mechanical engineer Jacob Leachman has been on leading edge of hydrogen research for over a decade. He talks about hydrogen projects in the Pacific Northwest, reasons why hydrogen is a fuel of choice, and the potential of the fuel. 

Also in this episode:
Seattle DJ Taryn Daly, a self-professed rockaholic and a WSU alumna, has her dream job at Seattle’s KISW station. Like most people, Taryn had to make some big adjustments during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Read more about Leachman’s and other WSU researchers’ work on hydrogen, and about Taryn Daly’s career as a rock DJ.

Support the show

Jacob Leachman:
So when it comes to you needing to get a charge of energy really fast, and get back on your way with whatever it is you need to do, hydrogen technology ends up having a serious advantage compared to any of the others zero emissions technologies.

Larry Clark: 
That's Jacob Leachman, mechanical engineer and hydrogen expert at Washington State University. I talked to him about the future of hydrogen fuel and its exciting potential.

[music]
 
Welcome to Viewscapes, stories from Washington State Magazine--connecting you to Washington State University, the state and the world. Hi, I'm magazine editor Larry Clark. 

In this episode, we also hear from Seattle rock DJ and Cougar alumna Taryn Daly. She's been in her dream job on radio for a while, but Taryn still had to adjust in the pandemic. 

[music]

I'm joined today by Dr. Jacob Leachman. Jake is an associate professor at WSU Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture. I have some questions for you, Jake about hydrogen and what it means for our state and the future of hydrogen.

Jacob Leachman:
I couldn't be more excited. Thanks, Larry, for having me. 

Larry Clark:
Sure. And thanks for for taking part in the article that we ran the in the magazine. 

Jacob Leachman:
It's amazing people from all over the world start emailing. Cougs from all over start saying, "Whoa, I didn't realize this was happening back at my alma mater." And so it leads to all kinds of exciting stories, being in the magazine like that. 

Larry Clark:
So you've been working on hydrogen for a while? How long exactly? 

Jacob Leachman:
So I got my start into hydrogen in 2005. I was given the choice to either write new property models for natural gas or hydrogen. And coming from the Pacific Northwest, I knew we didn't have any fossil fuel resources here locally, and I knew we had an abundance of clean energy that we were giving away for pennies. And so I said, you know, there's so many ways that hydrogen could be stored, used and produced, that's going to be my future that I'm going to work towards. So 2005-2007, I had written the current standard equations that everybody in the world uses for hydrogen properties. I realized hydrogen does some really cool things. There was one graduate research project in the whole of the US that I could find that was dealing with those properties, at the University of Wisconsin Madison. So I got my PhD in 2010. And came right back to the Palouse as quick as I could and started the HYPER lab here in 2010. I think it's something that's coming to people's attention now.

Larry Clark:
Of course, you know, as I wrote a little bit about in the article, hydrogen fuel has been around for quite a long time. You know, that's nothing new. It but it's really seems to be coming into its own. Why is it now becoming part of the fuel mix that's out there? 

Jacob Leachman:
You know, this is a really good question. Because when I first started giving talks in the state of Washington, I would have people just openly like shaking their head. No, there ain't no way this could happen, you know, not here. I like to think that I've been real consistent in my messaging this whole time. And now people after two or three times hearing the same thing and watching the world change, folks are coming around to it. And so why what's really causing this, everything to come together to start making people realize this is happening. And for as many people that are coming around, it has to be many things suddenly aligning in different ways that suddenly makes that many people start to come on board with hydrogen. And so I'm just gonna give you a couple of these and how they're coming together. 

Of course, climate change, right? what's become clear and you watch, you know, some of the tech leaders and visionaries in the region, like Bill Gates, for instance, has finally come around to hydrogen technology. Because when you look at the most difficult to decarbonize sectors, the most difficult to remove CO2 emissions, hydrogen is really the only, or far and away the leading, solution to many of those. So some of those include like steel production, or you know, zero carbon or zero emission, emission free aviation. There's just no even conceptual battery technology that could get us to the amount of energy per weight we would need in order to turn some of those applications. When you think about climate change, and then just having the ability to go zero emissions at all. 

Hydrogen is a key player in that but that's not really what's I think, driven many in industry to suddenly make the shift. That has been the cost. When we were starting to look at large installations of renewables, like wind and solar energy, we were having to get those technologies subsidized to get them going. But what nobody really modeled, and it's really difficult to model well is the learning curve, or how much how quickly, the technology gets better in terms of performance, efficiency, and cost to manufacture. And when you look at now that solar energy is the cheapest form of energy we can get, it's totally renewable anywhere. I mean, you can't get fossil energy to compete with that, then, you know, people started suddenly saying, Okay, and then wind had a similar learning curve. Now hydrogen in the cost of produce an electrolyzer that takes water and makes hydrogen and oxygen. Those are on learning curves that are following trends, very similar to what wind and solar did decades ago, just coming later. And so when you look at those cost production projections, that we're going to be able to produce hydrogen more cheaply from green electricity than we are from natural gas here by 2030, that suddenly has gotten people realizing that look, okay, we need to get hydrogen going, because it's going to be the molecule that's going to allow us to make many other green kinds of larger molecule systems. 

Larry Clark:
Yeah. And you know, we have some projects that are popping up here in our own state, not to mention really huge projects around the world that I think are doing exactly what you're talking about. Can you talk maybe a little bit about the one in Wenatchee, for example?

Jacob Leachman:
Yeah. So the projects going on in our state, it's been so exciting to see the the project starting to roll out. And you know, from way back when I got started here, I said, Look, we have some of the cheapest energy, and it's green in the entire country, you know, I mean, the spot market price for energy in the mid-Columbia Basin can even go negative when the utilities will pay you if you can take the money right then. And so when you look at how cheap that energy is, and that it's green, it's like, how do we maximize the revenue? Or how can we maximize the return? How can we make this energy product into a very valuable energy product? And how can we do it in a way that gives us more control over where we put the energy? Okay, that's really the challenge that the folks with the Douglas County Public Utility District were facing, the way Greg Ivory described it to me was--he's the lead person there at the utility. He said, Look, we were having to put wind energy on our grid by regulation, and we were having to flow water through the dam at the same time via regulation. We just needed something we could control, some kind of a knob that we could say this is how much energy is going to our participants, our customers in the utility and our members. And this is how much we can then set aside as a high value energy product that we could sell through other markets to then maximize the return towards those members in our utility. 

Cummins was the company that won the contract and build a five-megawatt proton exchange membrane electrolyzer there at the dam. it's expandable. 

Larry Clark:
This is Cummins, the diesel engine company? 

Jacob Leachman:
Yeah, they've come out and said the future is hydrogen. Okay, And hydrogen technology actually scales very well to replace a lot of the diesel engines, whether it be for trucks, whether it be for barges, ferries. It's kind of like, you know, the battery electric-diesel wars, everybody likes to joke but it's really similar to the unleaded regular gasoline versus the diesel wars of old, where the diesel emerged as really the long haul, heavy duty thing that scale to larger sizes much more easily than the conventional unleaded did. 

And you're saying that now, with the hydrogen technology, if Tesla wanted to actually build one of their semi-trucks they are planning, a huge majority of their freight capacity would actually have to be the battery just to drive the thing because the battery technology is so heavy. Hydrogen ends up scaling up to larger sizes because it's so light in a much easier way.

Larry Clark:
So you were you were saying you know, with hydro They then could capture some of that energy from the water flowing through the dam and then convert that into hydrogen, hydrogen fuel, and you know, we've talked about vehicles. Are there some other uses for that hydrogen fuel?

Jacob Leachman:
Oh absolutely. So one of the things that the Dean of the College of Engineering Mary Rezac, who was in petrochemical engineering and spent a lot of time in that in the fossil fuel industry, said, "Any chemical reaction, any chemical engineer, if you gave them cheap access to hydrogen, they would love that for any of their reactions, because that's what drives a chemical reaction." pH, what we learned is the driver of chemical reactions from high school chemistry class, literally translates from Latin into the hydrogen potential. So if you can have extra hydrogen available that makes making any of your chemical stocks, whether it be ammonia fertilizer for like farming, a lot of our fertilizer has to come from California, or the Gulf of Mexico, where the petroleum refineries are. If we had lots of hydrogen here locally, we could then make that ammonia fertilizer here for our farmers much more easily. You know, if it's not that you we can make methanol we can make ethanol we can make all of these different chemical feedstocks and products without having to produce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in order to do that. 

WSU has created the what we call the Consortium for Hydrogen and Renewably Generated Electrofuels, The CHARGE center. CHARGE sits between WSU's FAA Center of Excellence for clean aviation fuels led by Mike Wolcott, ESIC the power grid group, which produces all the electricity, and our catalysis group in chemical engineering. So CHARGE is kind of this neat center that aligns all of these WSU strength areas around this concept of producing the hydrogen with our abundant electricity for making whatever chemical fuel or feedstock that we want to. And, but what I told them when they found it, is that, look, once you've got clean hydrogen, that's your most valuable, you know, energy product right now on the market. So for transportation, or vehicles or whatever. So you know, once we've got that market saturated, then we'll start looking at some of these other higher value, you know, chemical fuels that electrofuels. Folks have been getting bids and prices for $20 to $40 per kilogram in terms of that just based on how much the demand is right now for hydrogen. 

We're seeing so much use going into like the Amazon and Walmart fulfillment centers, where they use hydrogen fuel cell forklifts for moving all of their products. And so that's something people don't realize, if they have anything on their person from Amazon or Walmart, there's a decent chance that it was moved by hydrogen fuel cell technology, and they just didn't know about it. 

Larry Clark:
Yeah, I don't think very many people know about that at all. 

Jacob Leachman:
Yeah, whenever you have a lot of vehicles that you need moving all the time in a small space, that's where the hydrogen technology takes off, because you can get it. So the way I describe it is the very best battery electric superchargers that are out there on the market, they can charge at about 120 kilowatts of energy. Okay, that's, that's about 100 times more than what you'd get from just your plug here in the wall, your 110 volt plug in, okay? When you compare that to a hydrogen charge, a hydrogen charge is around four megawatts of energy transfer. And so it's about 40 times faster than even the superchargers that are out there. So when it comes to you needing to get a charge of energy really fast, and get back on your way with whatever it is you need to do, which is the case in many of our ports, whether they be a highway port, or our naval ports or airports, hydrogen technology ends up having a serious advantage compared to any of the others zero emissions technologies. 

Larry Clark:
Speed really matters on supply chains. I think we've seen a lot of the supply chain become exposed during this last year and speed matters. And when I hear you saying this would speed up the ability to move those products quickly.

Jacob Leachman:
Yeah, and it's it's something that folks don't realize nature evolves for reliability, okay, that you can count on something happening regardless, okay? It's survival of the fittest really, in that sense. Hydrogen technology has been shown reliably to be the thing that you can count on, whether it be after a hurricane and the power grids out and you need a generator to go, or these fulfillment centers that have to go 24-7, that makes a difference. And you know, the battery folks are always like, well our technologies, you know, are 20% more efficient or 10% more efficient. So, you know, ours is going to win?

Well, the most efficient way for trees, green trees to capture energy is from the green spectrum of light. But they reflect. That's why the trees look green, because it's more robust and resilient for them to take the energy on either end of the green part of the spectrum, it levels the whole curve. And so that's, that's a simple thing that folks don't realize is that reliability and credibility that when you need it, it's there. Hydrogen has an advantage. That is, I think, one of the reasons why many of the fulfillment centers continue to go that way. 

Larry Clark:
So where does hydrogen go from here? What's the next 10 years look like?

Jacob Leachman:
You know, the next 10 years, I think we're just getting started. Right. So the project at Wenatchee, the Wells Bench dam there with Douglas County PUD is just one example. You've seen Tacoma Power come up with a new, first electrofuels rate plan in the world. It got worldwide attention as a model for how you get clean energy projects going. It's targeted and could be a great opportunity for massive hydrogen production in that port, where it uses 11,000 gallons of diesel every day. So that could be a real big win and something where Washington state could lead the world and very easily. 

So you're going to see more projects like that. The first hydrogen refueling station in the state of Washington is going to get built here in Olympia later this fall. It's not going to take a huge amount of hydrogen refueling stations to get a highway network across our state going. Not like the big rollouts were in California. They tried to maximize location to the, you know, homes and residents, residences. I think they've learned that, you know, the highway stops can be really key. And I think we have an opportunity to not make some of those mistakes they've made. 

So you can see the ports, you know, in these cluster projects going up across our state and region, that'll kind of get the backbone going where a free market can really emerge where people can have a lot of confidence in it. It's the next 20 years after those 10 that I'm particularly excited about and looking forward to, to completely get rid of our fossil fuel imports to our region. Okay, the amount of energy we need is fairly staggering. I mean, Bloomberg did a big analysis about the amount of green energy we would need to achieve our Paris Accord targets by 2050. And the rough estimate was we would need a landmass roughly the size of India, just producing green energy to do it. And they said, This isn't possible. How are we I mean, we can't do this. 

That's the kind of mindset that keeps us from innovating to that future. The way I look at it is this, the thing that I'm particularly excited about off of our coast, we have enough energy using wind turbine technology from 20 years ago, to replace all of our gasoline use in in the state of Washington, times two and a half. We have plenty of energy out there in the ocean. In fact, many of the larger turbines they've now designed specifically for hydrogen generation from seawater would actually sit below the horizon where you wouldn't even see them standing on the beach. You can imagine now a future where if we can innovate the technology that can store hydrogen in the column of that wind turbine, and then transfer that via a string of barges, some kind of a liquid hydrogen train. You can imagine a little tug coming out and picking up the little liquid hydrogen tanker at the bottom of each of these wind turbines. There's the energy, it's there. We just need to figure out how to get that from there to here and into your car and the way you need it. So that's that's what I'm really looking forward to Larry. 

Larry Clark:
Well, that's exciting to think about, you know. I love the idea of true energy independence in our region. And also to realize that it's practical and we are heading that way now, with the projects that are taking place in the state.

Jacob Leachman:
Yeah, if there's anything I know or have learned about the future, it's that there's more opportunity all the time, provided we're willing to see it, and then go out and make it happen. 

Larry Clark:
Anything new, you could share out of your lab or exciting research that's coming? 

Jacob Leachman:
I had a student design a heat exchanger for cooling hydrogen to liquefy it, we follow thermodynamic principles, which gets at something that almost looks like coral or slag tights coming down from a roof of a cave, just following the pure thermodynamics to optimize it. You could never make something like that. When I was a student, okay, yeah, cuz you'd have to start with a giant block of metal on and you try to machine it all out, he never could. She went out and had it grown in a printer out of aluminum. Not only did it have every little bit of metal where thermodynamics says there needed to be metal in order for it to work, but it ended up costing about what would have cost us to have one actually machined that wouldn't have gotten anywhere near as close performance wise. So the world is changing, where it's not too far down the road where you can imagine a hydrogen liquefier for the column of an offshore wind turbine being printed, loaded onto a truck fueled by hydrogen, and driven out to be launched into the ocean all in one seamless step.

[music]

Taryn Daly: 
I definitely would say that I'm kind of your your next door neighbor girl. I have dogs. I live on five acres. We have goats and chickens. I'm a commuter. So I have a lot in common with our listeners. our listeners go by a term called rockaholics. And I am I feel like a great example of who rockaholic is.

Adriana Janovich:
That's Taryn Daly, the weeknight DJ at 99.9 KISW, the rock of Seattle. Her signature tagline: tearing it up. She is on air from six to 10pm, Monday through Friday. On and off air, she roots for the Cougs. Taryn became interested in broadcast media at the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University. The 2007 grad recently talked with me, Adriana Janovich, associate editor at Washington State Magazine, about her job as a DJ and how she adapted to broadcasting from home during the covid 19 pandemic.

Taryn Daly:  
You know, I live outside of the city. I have a little baby. You know, I spend a lot of time outside I love recreation. You can typically find me at a brewery you know at any given time trying a new IPA in the area because I love our local microbrew scene. Yeah, so I just think that I really connect to our listeners in the sense that I'm so much like them because I am one of them. I've listened to KISW since I was really young, and always looked up to the females that were voices on this radio station. And now I feel super lucky to be one of them. And but at the end of the day, I'm just the girl next door. I'm pretty relatable. 

Adriana Janovich:
The pandemic changed the way Taryn worked. Instead of broadcasting live from the KISW studio in downtown Seattle, she commuted from one floor of her house...to another.

Taryn Daly:   
So home for me is actually in Stanwood, which is an hour north of Seattle. And so my normal commute, I would be leaving the house at one or two o'clock in the afternoon, getting to Seattle sometime around, you know two or three. And then I drive home at 10 o'clock at night and it's about an hour each direction. While now I commute from the upstairs to the downstairs. 

So that Friday where we were told, Hey, this is going to be your last day working from the studio, they had our work laptops set up with the technology to be able to do our shows from home. But I didn't have any sort of a home studio and kind of had to build that out. And it still isn't very exciting. I wish I had cooler things in the home studio. But yeah, basically we can do almost everything with a microphone, a little you know, processor and a laptop which is just wild, the times that we're living in, the technology that's available to us. It still is not the same as being you know, in the moment in that studio pushing the buttons, you know, looking out at the traffic driving by on I-5, but it's still pretty remarkable to be able to do it from home and we've kind of talked that into part of the storyline of, you know, radio and the coronavirus global pandemic.

Adriana Janovich:  
Taryn's duties go beyond DJ. She also blogs and manages social media for her station's parent company.

Taryn Daly: 
I would say that everyone, almost everyone that works on the radio anymore has multiple hats that they wear in their position. That's definitely the case with me. My radio show is a four hour program at six to 10pm, Monday through Friday, but I do a ton outside of those hours. I'm actually the social media director for the radio cluster in Seattle, Entercomm Seattle. So I oversee the social media digital strategies for five radio stations. And we study trends. And we've studied the competition. And we meet every single week to talk about things that are working, things that aren't working. Because one thing in particular that has changed in radio is that social media is a huge part of, you know, what people are consuming and radio is heavily involved in that space, which is, you know, it's pretty cool. So the conversations that we're having on the air can basically be extended on our social media platforms. And a lot goes into that. So we love to show who we are, we love to have those close kind of personal relationships with our listeners and social media definitely gives us that, that opportunity. On top of that I'm also the assistant music director. So we have music meetings, every single week where we are listening to new music and talking about which songs we are playing, searching out those those up and comers that hey, we we should keep a pulse on this band, because they're going places. Technology is pretty amazing. And there's no there's no switching out, you know, reels and and and playing records anymore. It's all done digitally. And yeah, definitely gives us more time to connect with our listeners, outside of you know, listening to us and hearing us on the radio, we get to form those relationships with them off the air as well.

Adriana Janovich: 
Taryn was a radio super fan from a young age.

Taryn Daly:   
So my earliest radio memory is actually from fifth grade. And at the time, I was listening to a station called called CUBE 93. They had an event at a Circuit City, which we don't have those anymore. But I remember making my parents take me to meet Eric Powers who actually happens to still be on the air at one of our sister stations, just to you know, bring it all home. But they took me to Circuit City to meet Eric Powers and I was could not believe that I was meeting him. And then fast forward to about five years ago when they told me that he was going to come on board and work for Entercomm Seattle. I fangirled so hard because he was kind of my first radio DJ that I felt super connected to and now he's one of my dearest coworkers which is really cool. 

So the the love for radio started very early. And then I used to hear you know, females on the rock station I used to listen to the late they call her the late Cathy Faulconer because she was a late night DJ like I am. And then also Jolene was kind of my, my mentor. And I actually took over the night show after she kind of hung up her headphones and moved to Denver. And so yeah, I've had some pretty amazing experiences getting to know the people that I that I used to listen to you at all different stages of my of my upbringing. 

And then when I went to Wazuu, I didn't really know what I wanted to do. I knew that it was one of two things. I either wanted to be a like sports medicine trainer on the sidelines of a sporting event, or I wanted to do something in broadcasting. I took like one science class in regards to like the kinesiology field and I was like, Nope, I'm done. I'm out of here. And so I switched my major and moved into communications and then slowly kind of felt that really truly broadcasting was where I wanted my emphasis to be. 

So in regards to internships, most of that happened through my work with Cable Eight, which was just an awesome experience for me. I served as talent on different shows, I was a producer for different shows that some of my dearest friends through the Edward R. Murrow School of Communication, and knew that that was what I really wanted to do. So then when I graduated, I actually had a friend of mine whose dad is also a Coug and also a former broadcaster, wrote me a letter of recommendation to get started at KRKO radio in Everett. And so that was my first you know, radio job although I wasn't technically on the air there. I would do different promotional recordings or commercials things of that nature, but I didn't actually work on the air there. I was more of a sales and advertising person and then I wandered away from radio for a little while, came back to it in Bellingham landed in Seattle and here I am.

Adriana Janovich:
She won't be hanging up her headphones anytime soon. After nearly six years at KISW, Taryn still feels the joy and excitement of her job being a DJ.

Taryn Daly: 
It's just such a wild ride. Your adrenaline is going a million miles an hour when you're doing a live show. And it's just a blast. And I feel really like you have no idea how lucky I feel to be in the position that I'm in. I got my dream job at my dream radio station when I was 30 years old, and that doesn't happen for everyone.

[music]

Larry Clark: 
To read more about hydrogen fuel, Taryn's DJ life, and a lot more WSU stories, visTaryn Daly: it magazine wsu.edu 

Our music is composed and performed by WSU Regents Professor of Music, Greg Yasinitsky. 

Thanks for listening to Viewscapes.