(AP) — As fossil fuel emissions continue warming Earth’s atmosphere, the Biden administration is turning to hydrogen as an energy source for vehicles, manufacturing and generating electricity.
It's offering $8 billion to entice the nation’s industries, engineers and planners to figure out how to produce and deliver clean hydrogen. States and businesses are making final pitches Friday as they compete for a new program that will create regional networks, or “hubs,” of hydrogen producers, consumers and infrastructure. The aim is to accelerate the availability and use of the colorless, odorless gas that already powers some vehicles and trains.
How can enough hydrogen be produced to meet demand — in ways that don’t worsen global warming? And how can it be moved efficiently to where users can get it? Such questions will be tackled by the hubs.
Nearly every state has joined at least one proposed hub and many are working together, hoping to reap the economic development and jobs they would bring. The governors of Arkansas, Louisiana and Oklahoma came up with the “HALO Hydrogen Hub” to compete for funding, for example.
Big fossil fuel companies like Chevron and EQT Corporation, renewable energy developers such as Obsidian, and researchers in university and government labs are involved, too.
But only a select few will receive billions in federal funding. Here are some questions and answers about the initiative:
Q. What is a hydrogen hub?
A. The bipartisan infrastructure law signed by President Joe Biden last year included $8 billion for a program to establish six to 10 regional “hydrogen hubs” around the nation. A hub is meant to be a network of companies that produce clean hydrogen and of the industries that use it — heavy transportation, for example — and infrastructure such as pipelines and refueling stations. States and companies have teamed up to create hub proposals. Their final applications are due Friday at the U.S. Department of Energy, which is expected to start awarding money later this year.
Q. Why hydrogen?
Hydrogen can be made in ways that yield little if any planet-warming greenhouse gases. The Energy Department says hydrogen, once produced, can generate power in a fuel cell, emitting only water vapor and warm air. The department says the hubs will produce “clean” hydrogen, although its definition includes hydrogen produced with natural gas. Gas companies have talked about mixing hydrogen at low concentrations with methane for delivery to homes and businesses.
Some consider hydrogen “clean” only if made through electrolysis — splitting water molecules using renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power, which also is carbon free, as well as nuclear power. But some oil and gas companies say they can use fossil fuels as feedstocks if they capture the carbon dioxide and keep it out of the atmosphere.
Environmental groups say hydrogen presents its own pollution and climate risks. When emitted into the atmosphere, it boosts volumes of methane and other greenhouse gases, underscoring the need to avoid leaks from hydrogen systems – an issue the hubs should consider, said Nichole Saunders, staff attorney with the Environmental Defense Fund.
Q. Who are the finalists?
The Energy Department asked for detailed plans and received 79. In December, the department encouraged 33 of those with hub proposals to submit a final application, although ones that were discouraged can still apply. The department hasn’t identified the applicants because of sensitive negotiations over where to put the hubs.
The environmental nonprofit Clean Air Task Force has monitored the process and identified 23 finalists on an online map. The Associated Press contacted those groups and received responses from most, confirming that they were encouraged by the DOE to apply by Friday and sharing details of their plans. Among them are energy producers — fossil fuels as well as renewable developers — plus states, universities, national laboratories, utilities and companies that plan to use the hydrogen.