GUEST COMMENTARY: Alaska’s clean energy leadership

In November 1969, Alaska made energy history by exporting the first cargo of American liquefied natural gas, shipping this new, cleaner form of energy to Asia and establishing ourselves as a low-carbon energy innovator.

That first transit was the beginning of the longest-term export contract between the U.S. and Japan. Today a worldwide transition to climate-friendly energy is underway, and Alaska is well positioned to accelerate this global transformation.

Because of hydrogen’s net-zero carbon benefits, it is a major component of a decarbonized energy future. Hydrogen is a clean-burning gas that contains more energy per unit of weight than fossil fuels, only emits water when burned, and can be made without releasing CO2.

I am one of 10 senators that authored the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which passed the Senate last month and is expected to be before the House soon. The bill includes $8 billion to establish a handful of U.S. hydrogen hubs, and here in Alaska, we have an enviously complete checklist of all the components needed to become a global hydrogen leader.

Alaska is rich with natural gas, whose primary component is methane, a key ingredient for producing hydrogen. Our natural gas is found in Cook Inlet, and in even larger quantities on the North Slope.

The Alaska LNG Project is fully permitted and in an advanced planning stage, and adding hydrogen production to this project enhances and extends Alaska LNG’s financial rationale and climate benefits.

Six of the top 10 cities with the largest carbon footprints are found in Asia, with Alaska positioned as the closest U.S. shipping point to these markets. This advantage was understood 50 years ago when we began exporting LNG, and it holds true today. Shorter shipping routes directly equate to lower shipping emissions, giving Alaska a major advantage over more distant markets.

Hydrogen is a fundamental component of energy transition plans across Asia. Hydrogen is one of the building blocks of Japan’s energy roadmap. The Tokyo Games this summer featured the first hydrogen-powered Olympic Flame in Olympics history, a small but profound visible demonstration of Japan’s commitment to clean energy.

South Korea is also rapidly moving toward a hydrogen future, with growing hydrogen targets in their overall energy supply.

Alaska already has well-established trade relationships with Asian nations. Supplying them with Alaska hydrogen will give our economy and our collective climate a major boost.

The bipartisan infrastructure bill also includes $3.5 billion to establish hubs for carbon capture, utilization, and storage — known as CCUS — in “regions of the United States with high levels of coal, oil, or natural gas resources.” Alaska is the perfect proving ground for such a project.

To achieve the climate benefits of converting natural gas to hydrogen, carbon must be captured during the production process and safely stored. Carbon is typically stored in naturally occurring underground reservoirs, and geologists have determined that Cook Inlet is among the best sites in the U.S for potential carbon sequestration.

In addition to Cook Inlet’s natural gas, Nikiski will be home to the Alaska LNG terminal and already has infrastructure available that can be the basis of launching hydrogen production, storage, and export. Alaska is ahead of the game.

We have the ability to integrate new, cutting edge energy technologies into existing infrastructure, which will decrease startup costs, and make the long-term economics of hydrogen energy more affordable.

No one knows how to produce energy in a cleaner, safer, and more profitable manner than we do here in Alaska. As the world adds new clean fuels like hydrogen to supplement or replace existing energy supply, Alaska has the resources to continue to be an energy leader for the foreseeable future.

As our clean energy infrastructure priorities take shape and get funded in Washington, I will continue to ensure Alaska’s assets are a leading component of the national solution.

Lisa Murkowski is the senior U.S. senator from Alaska.

Updated: 
09/29/2021 - 9:56am