updated 7/19/2007 12:25:00 PM ET 2007-07-19T16:25:00

Sen. Byron Dorgan has wielded golden shovels at groundbreakings and oversized scissors at ribbon-cuttings, but he says a planned dedication near Minot on Saturday will be a first.

The North Dakota Democrat will fill up a hydrogen-powered pickup "and hopefully drive off."

Dorgan will be a featured dignitary at the dedication of a $2 million wind-to-hydrogen plant near Minot that he worked to fund over the past three years.

"This is really kind of a breakthrough project, using the wind to produce hydrogen," Dorgan said. "It's an exciting conclusion for me to see this project take shape."

Dorgan said the plant, which is about the size of a garage, uses intermittent power from wind turbines to produce and store hydrogen fuel without creating pollution.

The project is a collaboration of Bismarck-based Basin Electric Power Cooperative, the University of North Dakota's Energy and Environmental Research Center, North Dakota State University's North Central Research Center and other partners. Basin spokesman Daryl Hill said the project is a first for North Dakota.

Kevin Harrison, a senior engineer at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., said there are fewer than 10 similar demonstration projects in the United States.

Harrison, who earned his doctorate at the University of North Dakota, said each of the wind-to-hydrogen projects is important in proving the alternative fuel.

"To me, as a researcher, it's highly valuable to put equipment on the ground and analyzing it for cost effectiveness," Harrison said. "There is no substitution for putting hands on hardware and making it happen."

Basin is studying two wind projects in the Dakotas to produce a combined 200 megawatts — enough to power about 200,000 homes. At present, it buys a combined 130 megawatts of electricity from wind farms in the Dakotas. The cooperative also owns two wind turbines near Chamberlain, S.D., and two near Minot, where an NDSU agricultural experiment station has a small demonstration project.

At the wind-to-hydrogen plant, energy from wind turbines is passed through a Belgian-made electrolyzer that runs electricity though water and separates it into oxygen and hydrogen, Hill said. The hydrogen is then compressed and stored as fuel.

Hill said the hydrogen produced at the plant will be used be used to refuel three pickups and a tractor, which runs on a blend of hydrogen and diesel fuel.

Natural gas is typically used to produce hydrogen, but the process creates emissions. Hill said the goal is to demonstrate that hydrogen can be produced — and stored — using pollution-free wind power.

"One of the drawbacks with wind generation is that the wind doesn't blow all the time," Hill said.

"We are trying to find a way to not only use hydrogen as transportation fuel, but also increase the reliability of wind generation," he said. "Based on what we find out, we can determine the feasibility of hydrogen-based production."

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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