With a partnership in place between Bakken Energy LLC and Berkshire Hathaway Inc.’s BNSF Railway, the U.S. railway industry could see a boost from natural gas-derived hydrogen as plans for a hub progress.


In June 2021, Mitsubishi Power Americas Inc. inked a deal with Bakken Energy to develop a regional hydrogen hub (H2Hub) in North Dakota. Gov. Doug Burgum (R-ND) last October then said the state, as well as Minnesota, Montana and Wisconsin, would link arms with Mitsubishi and Bismarck, ND-based Bakken Energy to develop an H2Hub using funds designated to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 (IIJA). 

“For Bakken Energy, and our Heartland Hydrogen Hub, it is all about making clean hydrogen abundant and affordable,” said Bakken Energy CEO Mike Hopkins. 

Bakken Energy in 2022 signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) for the Mandan, Hidatsa and Akira Nation, which is the sovereign tribal nation of the Three Affiliated Tribes, to become the natural gas supplier for the Great Plains Hydrogen Hub. The hub, the nexus of which is expected to be Bakken Energy’s Great Plains Synfuels Plant, is expected to produce more than 380,000 metric tons/year (mty) of hydrogen. 

“Part of the equation is production, but the other part is distribution and that’s where BNSF will be invaluable. Being able to transport our hydrogen by rail would dramatically reduce our distribution costs and therefore the cost to consumers,” Hopkins said. 

With more than 400 railroad lines, or 32,500 route miles, criss-crossing 28 states and three Canadian provinces underpinning its operations, BNSF is one of North America’s largest railway companies. 

The company’s onboarding in the H2Hub MOU puts BNSF in a position to assist in designing the Heartland H2Hub and inform on the role of railways as consumers and transporters of hydrogen, according to Bakken Energy. 

“Railways could play a critical role in distributing our clean hydrogen production, and could also be consumers as trains transition from diesel,” said Bakken Energy Chairman Steve Lebow.

The Heartland H2hub is also expected to produce about 390,000 mty of blue hydrogen. Bakken Energy said it estimates about 95% of the carbon dioxide created during production would be sequestered underground. 

Construction on the Great Plains Synfuels Plant is expected to start in the first half of 2024 and could take about three years. 

With BNSF joining the project, the Heartland H2Hub appears poised to fulfill the IIJA’s requirement of having at least one H2Hub designed to serve hydrogen’s end-use in the transportation sector. Concept papers were due in November 2022, with the full application for a portion of DOE’s $8 billion in H2Hubs funding due by April 7. 

[Decision Maker: A real-time news service focused on the North American natural gas and LNG markets, NGI’s All News Access is the industry’s go-to resource for need-to-know information. Learn more.]

In October, Bakken Energy inked a separate MOU with Cummins Inc. and Schneider National Carriers Inc. to collaborate on designing the Heartland H2Hub to serve the needs of long-haul trucking. 

This also is not BNSF’s first hydrogen-related MOU. 

In December 2021, BNSF was tapped along with Caterpillar Inc.’s Progress Rail Services Corp. by a unit of oil and gas major Chevron Corp. for an MOU to demonstrate the feasibility for hydrogen fuel use as a viable alternative to traditional fuels for line-haul rail. 

By Rail, By Sea

In related news, the DOE’s Office of Clean Energy Demonstration called on the Port of Corpus Christi Authority to submit an application to fund the Horizons Clean Hydrogen Hub (HCH2).

The South Texas port submitted a concept paper to the DOE in November with 30 private sector companies and team members listed as potential partners. 

CEO Sean Strawbridge said Corpus port management was “…grateful that our hydrogen hub development concept has resonated with the U.S. Department of Energy. As a public port authority with large tracts of available land and a burgeoning industrial complex, we find ourselves in a unique position to integrate multiple links in the clean hydrogen production value chain creating efficient H2 campuses offering high efficacy returns on these precious federal investments.”

The South Texas port, already one of the nation’s largest for oil and liquefied natural gas exports, is aiming to add a connection to a large-scale hydrogen production in the United States. According to port officials, the project would have three development phases, already in the works, with different estimated completion dates.

Port authorities noted that existing operations surrounding the Corpus area “already use hydrogen as part of the refining process, and a number of other industries may transition to hydrogen as a low carbon alternative to natural gas to power their operations.”

Once completed, HCH2 would add to 110 miles of existing hydrogen pipelines to move supply via rail or ship throughout the region. 

“The Port of Corpus Christi is leveraging its prominence in the energy marketplace to accelerate hydrogen market adoption and realize substantive decarbonization of key industrial sectors,” said Chief Strategy and Sustainability Officer Jeffrey Pollack. 

The DOE invitation comes after the port snagged $157.3 million in federal funding to push forward on the final phase of a multi-year improvement project from the recently-passed Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2023. The 30-year-long Corpus Ship Channel Improvement Project (CIP), now in its final phase with completion set for 2024, would increase the depth of the shipping channel to minus 54 feet and widen it to 530 feet. The completion of the CIP comes as the Corpus port has set two sequential export records for crude oil, refined products, liquefied natural gas and dry bulk shipments.