An old-school utility company probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when people think about Minnesota’s tech landscape. But Minneapolis-based Xcel Energy is leaning on its engineering and technological prowess to embark on a new pilot project that may change energy production for the better. Executive vice president and chief generation officer Timothy O’Connor is helping to lead the charge. Under a $14 million project authorized by the U.S. Department of Energy, Xcel is partnering with the Idaho National Laboratory to produce hydrogen at one of Xcel’s Minnesota nuclear plants. The project, which planners say won’t produce any carbon, uses a high-temperature electrolyzer to separate hydrogen and oxygen molecules in water at the plant. The resulting hydrogen could be used in fuel cells for the transportation industry or in a blend with natural gas, among several other possible applications, O’Connor says. “It now starts to open the door of ‘What are the other practical, feasible possibilities for hydrogen, and what are the economics of those paths?’ ” he says. “I do think economics is going to determine the direction, but the good thing is, no matter which direction we go, more hydrogen use means more decarboniz[ation] overall.” Like several other companies, Xcel has pledged to drastically reduce its carbon emissions over the next few decades, making the hydrogen project a perfect fit for the company’s long-term goals. The utility company aims to be 100 percent carbon-free by 2050.