Hydrogen is the biggest buzz word these days when it comes to decarbonization, and for good reason. It’s carbon-free, can easily be created from and used to store renewable energy sources, and can be used in gas turbines to increase power system flexibility and reduce carbon emissions.

That last benefit is the focus of a new partnership between the technology group Wärtsilä, WEC Energy Group, (WEC), the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and Burns & McDonnell (B&McD), to carry out hydrogen fuel testing at a power plant in Michigan.

“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,” according to a press release from Wärtsilä.

The 55 MW A.J. Mihm power plant, located in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, currently operates three Wärtsilä 50SG engines run by natural gas. One of those engines will be used to test fuel blends of up to 25 vol.% hydrogen mixed with natural gas as it continues to supply power to the grid. Measurements of the engine’s performance will be made throughout the testing to demonstrate its ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while operating efficiently.

“These hydrogen tests reinforce the viability of the internal combustion engine as a future-proof technology that plays a key role in decarbonising 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 decarbonised future,” said Jon Rodriguez, Director, Engine power plants, Wärtsilä North America.

The Wärtsilä engine will need little to no modifications to run on the hydrogen fuel blend, and is even capable of operating 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.

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. It 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.

“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,” said Rodriguez.

The project supports WEC’s ambition to reduce the CO2 emissions from its electric generating fleet by 60% by the end of 2025, and by 80% by the end of 2030 from 2005 levels, and to be net carbon neutral by 2050.