Environmental Leadership
September 27, 2023

Energy 101: What clean fuels can do for the future

When we think about clean energy, wind and solar are often top of mind. But at Xcel Energy, we’re exploring innovations that would bring additional carbon-free sources into the mix. This includes clean fuels such as hydrogen, captured methane, renewable natural gas and even sustainable aviation fuel. These developing energy sources will become an important part of our clean energy transition.  


As part of our strategy to provide net-zero energy to our customers by 2050, we are demonstrating innovations related to new clean energy sources and demonstrating how to integrate those into the clean energy choices we offer our customers, all while keeping costs low.   


Hydrogen: Versatile, abundant and carbon-free 


Hydrogen is one of the promising technologies we’re exploring because it can be used on a large scale to produce electricity with no or low carbon emissions, similar to how natural gas is used today. In the future, combustion turbines powered by hydrogen could provide carbon-free, 24/7 dispatchable energy to back up wind and solar generation. Hydrogen can also help reduce emissions in industries where cutting carbon is challenging, such as transportation and agriculture. 


Accessing hydrogen to use as an energy source requires a process known as electrolysis, in which the hydrogen and oxygen that make up the H20 water molecule are separated. The electrolyzer that does this work can be powered by any type of electricity generation. Running an electrolyzer on wind or solar power produces carbon-free hydrogen, while hydrogen produced with nuclear power is considered to have very low carbon emissions.  


One of the ways we plan to demonstrate the use of hydrogen as an energy source is through the production of hydrogen at the Prairie Island Nuclear Plant in Minnesota. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) awarded Xcel Energy and partners Bloom Energy and Idaho National Laboratory about $10 million for the project. Additionally, earlier this year, in partnership with neighboring states, we submitted proposals to the DOE that map initial steps toward regional, large-scale, commercially viable hydrogen ecosystems through an interconnected, multi-state hydrogen network known as a hydrogen hub. 


Hydrogen hubs would contribute to a more diverse and efficient energy infrastructure by enabling widespread commercialization of hydrogen technologies, whether that’s in heating homes, fueling power generation, fueling industry or powering cars with clean electricity


Renewable natural gas: A mutually beneficial fuel source 


Technology advancements are bringing new purpose to places like landfills, dairies and water treatment facilities. A byproduct of those facilities is methane, the primary component of natural gas, and Xcel Energy is exploring how methane can be captured to benefit the environment and our customers. By capturing the methane, Renewable Natural Gas facilities can prevent the release of methane into the atmosphere and then use that methane just like natural gas is used: in furnaces, boilers, water heaters, stoves and other appliances.  


There are additional ways of recovering methane to use as a fuel source that the company is exploring, known as recovered methane. 


In the San Juan Basin of Colorado, an innovative horizontal drilling technology is intercepting methane from coal beds before it is emitted into the atmosphere. The methane intercepted by vent wells will be collected, treated and pressurized before being injected into a natural gas transmission pipeline at the drilling site. From there it will be distributed to customers. 


Clean fuels creating other clean fuels 


Clean transportation is one of Xcel Energy’s strategic priorities, and the company is seizing the opportunity to help accelerate the aviation industry’s transition to clean energy. We have joined Bank of America, Delta Airlines and Ecolab to replace conventional jet fuel with sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).  


Xcel Energy’s role will be to provide clean energy, both carbon-free electricity and carbon-free hydrogen, to sustainable aviation fuel production facilities. With this collaboration we will work to maximize clean energy to ensure SAF production has as small a carbon footprint as possible.  


Other benefits of clean fuels 


Clean fuels not only help achieve our environmental goals but also provide employment opportunities, improve energy security and allow the use of existing infrastructure such as underground lines and combustion turbines. Our exploration and demonstration of advancing clean fuel technologies is just one of the many ways that we are moving toward a clean energy future. Read more about other technologies that are poised to deliver a clean energy future for our customers as part of our Energy 101 series, including energy storage and smart meters.