Hydrogen and energy have enjoyed an intertwined relationship for a long time. Hydrogen powered the first internal combustion engine slightly over 200 years ago. Since then, it has become a critical part of modern industries.
Hydrogen is like a few other gasses: It is light, does not produce direct emissions, is energy dense, and is comparatively easy to produce. However, today, for hydrogen gas to make a significant contribution to our green economy, it needs to be adopted in sectors where it is nearly absent. These sectors of interest include power generation, transportation, building heating, and industrial process heating. After all, these are our biggest polluters. But for this to happen, hydrogen production, transportation, and storage costs need to be lower.
The future of hydrogen gas lies in the development and proliferation of distributed clean hydrogen. However, it is essential to lay out how things currently stand in the United States to understand if we are on the right path toward building a clean hydrogen economy. Most of all, we need to ensure that we are moving in a direction away from an indefinite reliance on burning fossil fuels.
In 2021, the world witnessed the United States announce several developments as part of its energy transition pathway. For starters, Joe Biden empowered the Secretary of Energy to act aggressively in tackling climate change. Secondly, the administration committed to providing funding for the speeding up technologies needed to tackle the current climate emergency. A big part of this push is to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by making the switch to cleaner energy like hydrogen.
A crucial part of the bill is the $1.2 Trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Referred to as the Bipartisan Infrastructure LAW or BIL, it officially signals the beginning of the transition to hydrogen. It examines how the DOE’s Hydrogen Program can be developed over the short and long term (2026).
The BIL includes several provisions about clean energy, carbon capture technology, storage, utilization, and, most importantly, hydrogen. Below is a summary of the leading hydrogen-related references in the BIL. If anything, this will help illuminate the potential direction we’re taking toward hydrogen adoption.
Establishing A Clean Hydrogen Strategy: The BIL calls for establishing a national body that focuses on areas of development by the Department of Energy. It highlights a roadmap that facilitates processing, storage, and the use of clean hydrogen energy. This will help to encourage the development of technologies like hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, amongst others.
Promises $9.5 Billion in Funding – Hydrogen programs are set to receive $9.5 billion in funding, $8 billion of which will be diverted towards building four regional clean hydrogen hubs. Apart from these hydrogen hubs, there is $1 billion allocated for electrolysis research, development, and demonstration. Another $500 million for developing clean energy and recycling-related parts. These will play a key role in the emerging green hydrogen economy.
The BIL defines “Clean Hydrogen” – One of the most critical aspects of the BIL is how it defines Clean Hydrogen. It refers to clean hydrogen as gas that’s produced with less than 2 kilograms of CO2 released per kg of hydrogen produced. Based on this definition, the DOE is in consultation with the EPA to identify initial carbon intensity standards. Interestingly, the carbon intensity of the processes upstream and downstream of the actual hydrogen production phase are excluded from this calculation. However, there is a clearer understanding of what minimum standards upcoming hydrogen technologies should adhere to.
H2 Matchmaker – The US Department Of Energy is currently working on building and maintaining a comprehensive and interactive online hydrogen map. This map, in conjunction with a database, will help with the exchange of hydrogen information. The map will also forge a network of businesses producing hydrogen with consumers, operators, and other teams participating in hydrogen hubs. This will help all stakeholders better understand hydrogen production and hydrogen deployment.
This infrastructure bill means that distributed clean hydrogen production will undoubtedly get a big boost towards mainstreaming. Modular electrolyzers, designed for distributed energy and bulk power systems, will be one of the steps in the right direction. The DOE also plans to invest in developing low-cost membranes, electrolytes, and more robust s separation materials that can withstand saltwater and various impurities.
Further investment in improved component design and material integration, along with upgraded hydrogen transportation techniques and storage technologies, will all work towards giving distributed clean hydrogen the boost it needs to become a primary energy store of the future.
We’ll also see improved technologies that integrate hydrogen production with heating, drying, compression technologies, stationary systems, and transportation.
This will mean that distributed clean hydrogen becomes easier and cheaper to produce. Most importantly, this must be put within reach of regular people, i.e., those who want to gas up their hydrogen vehicles or generate electricity at their house for peak shaving or when the local electric grid fails.
These distributed, hydrogen-fueled power plants will be able to local microgrids with locally produced hydrogen. Can you imagine a world of clean, self-contained energy ecosystems?
The higher efficiency of distributed hydrogen hubs means that we’ll soon be able to produce clean hydrogen more efficiently. Using green technologies like solar and wind and low CI turquoise hydrogen also means that hydrogen grids will soon be viable in many different locations for many different applications.
Clean hydrogen has the potential of not only helping us meet our net zero commitments but also exceeding them! That’s why distributed hydrogen and the Infrastructure Legislation is essential not just for the US but for the entire world. This technology has the potential to change the way we live in many different ways.