H2Hubs to boost US hydrogen production in 8 billion program
The Department of Energy yesterday launched a new 8 billion program to develop a network of centers to produce hydrogen as a clean fuel. This is a milestone for one of the Biden administration’s most controversial policies to combat climate change.
Hydrogen has the potential to reduce emissions from some industries that are the most difficult to clean. It could replace the coal used to make steel or fossil fuels that power diesel trucks and cargo ships. When burned, it produces water vapor instead of greenhouse gas emissions (although it can still contribute to nitrogen oxide pollution in the air).
The difficult part is that not all hydrogen is created the same way and it can have different advantages and disadvantages. At the moment, most are made using hydrogen gas. To form hydrogen from gas, methane reacts with high-temperature vapor under high pressure. That process releases carbon dioxide, and then methane emissions from the entire gas industry pose a threat to the atmosphere. Methane is a more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
Therefore, the Biden administration must clean up the hydrogen product before using hydrogen to decarbonize other industries. The DOE yesterday unveiled part of its plan to clean up the process when it filed a Notice of Intent (NOI), a document stating that it plans to announce funding opportunities in September or October to develop a clean hydrogen hub, which it calls “H2Hubs.” . ”
The Bilateral Infrastructure Act provides funding for at least four centers; NOI says the DOE is considering funding between six and 10 hubs to launch its program. At least one of those centers is expected to produce hydrogen using renewable energy. Another center is the one that powers hydrogen production along with nuclear power. And, at least one center should be able to demonstrate that it can produce clean hydrogen from fossil fuels by combining carbon dioxide emission capture and separation technology. But the DOE also says it will find at least two hubs in regions with “abundant natural gas resources”, allowing more H2Hubs to run on fossil fuels than renewable energy.
When it comes to hydrogen, clean energy experts are watching the DOE’s movements closely. If the DOE is not careful about what kind of project it chooses, all hype for hydrogen could trigger the gas industry at a time when research shows that the world must turn to dirty fuel to avoid more catastrophic climate change.
Hydrogen production that combines gas with carbon capture does not really produce clean fuels and may even lead to more greenhouse gas emissions under certain conditions. When this type of hydrogen is used to heat buildings, for example, it can be more dirty than a modified heating system, a study published last year by researchers at Stanford and Cornell found. The main reason for this is that methane leaks from wells, pipelines and even equipment in homes and businesses lead to mass production and consumption of gas. This is a major climate problem that could escalate to a gas-based hydrogen hub.
Because of that risk, the Department of Energy needs to tighten its standards for clean hydrogen projects, say experts from the nonprofit Union of Concerned Scientists and RMI. The 8 billion funding for clean hydrogen comes from the Bilateral Infrastructure Act passed last year, and the language of the law only considers the climatic effects of CO2 emissions at hydrogen production sites.
According to nonprofits, a safer approach is to scrutinize all greenhouse gas emissions from the entire supply chain and the hydrogen generation process. In a sign that the DOE may keep in mind when evaluating applications for funding, the NOI issued this week states that the department “also intends to evaluate the entire lifecycle emission for each application and will give priority to applications that reduce GHG emissions. The entire project lifecycle.
In contrast, “green hydrogen” is actually made by electrolysis that runs on renewable energy, which splits the water into hydrogen. This process is less polluting, but, at the moment, it is still more expensive than making hydrogen with gas and carbon capture because electrolyzers are expensive.
The Biden administration is working to reduce that cost. President Joe Biden yesterday authorized the use of the Defense Production Act to strengthen the domestic supply chain for clean energy technology, including electrolyzers. The Department of Energy launched an initiative last year aimed at bringing the price of clean hydrogen down 80 percent to $ 1 per kilogram by the end of the decade.