Vt. partnership to help power GlobalFoundries with hydrogen

Published: Jan. 20, 2022 at 4:41 PM EST
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ESSEX JUNCTION, Vt. (WCAX) - A new partnership aims to bring hydrogen fuel to the GlobalFoundries chip-making facility in Essex Junction, providing one of the state’s biggest energy users with a cleaner power source.

It’s a first-of-its-kind project in Vermont and one of the first in the country. Vermont Gas Systems, the University of Vermont, and GlobalFoundries are embarking on a pilot project that could bring green hydrogen power to the Green Mountains.

“This project will show the rest of the state -- and the world -- that zero-carbon thermal energy is possible, paving the way for businesses and families to tap into additional resources of clean and affordable energy,” said VGS’ Neale Lunderville.

It’s called the Green Hydrogen Pilot Program, and it’s an effort to bring low and no-carbon renewable energy sources in to displace fossil fuels. Green hydrogen is an energy source created by water and renewable electricity through electrolysis. Machines called ‘electrolyzers’ installed on existing natural gas pipelines will separate the hydrogen and oxygen used to make water. Then, the hydrogen is mixed with natural gas, and burned in a furnace or boiler for clean energy.

Global Foundries’ F9 campus in Essex Junction will be the test dummy. According to Lunderville, the project will use one-megawatt electrolyzers, which will turn out about 20,000 MMBtu of hydrogen. And burning hydrogen releases no carbon, which can help displace fossil fuels. “By working with GF and UVM, this project will demonstrate the value of renewable fuel in high-tech manufacturing, which is a critical element in fighting climate change,” he said.

GlobalFoundries last year faced criticism from environmental groups after an effort to cut the cord from Green Mountain Power and become their own utility as a way to save money. Critics worried that this would be a way for the chip manufacturer to skirt around state emissions standards.

“All the years, we have met every single local, state, national requirement and exceeded it. So, I think there’s a proven track record in terms of our environmental commitment,” said GlobalFoundries’ Ken McAvey.

A decision on that is still yet to be made by the Public Utilities Commission, though this could be GlobalFoundries’ zero-carbon solution -- if it works.

There are questions surrounding green hydrogen and its cost-effectiveness. Information is still limited, as researchers work to study this worldwide. That’s where UVM comes in, partnering to offer the know-how from researchers and give students real-world problem-solving opportunities. “Giving students the opportunity to be hands-on working on these kinds of technologies from the beginning is huge. The open-endedness of the project for us is just really an exciting part,” said UVM’s Kirk Dombrowski.

In the meantime, VGS is planning on footing the bill, though they hope to get grants for the research. The cost of that bill is still unknown, as these teams work to finalize plans before construction begins in 2023.

We asked Global Foundries how much hydrogen it would take to power the F9 campus and if their goal is to power the whole operation. They said the pilot project aims to replace five percent of the company’s natural gas usage with hydrogen. Future expansion would hopefully bring them to 30%. They say UVM researchers will be key in figuring out how to make it happen.

Related Story:

GlobalFoundries seeks to cut the cord with Green Mtn. Power

Green Mountain Power announces agreement with GlobalFoundries

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