States like California, Texas and Colorado are currently vying to become hydrogen production hubs. Although hydrogen offers the potential for additional renewable energy, many are not doing so solely because they are committed to a clean energy future.
The Biden administration in February rolled out a plan to provide $8 billion to many states across the country to produce, process and store hydrogen as part of the bipartisan infrastructure bill. Applications for the funding opened this month and the Department of Energy is working to decide where it will be awarded.
The vast majority of hydrogen currently produced in the United States goes into industrial processes like creating ammonia-based fertilizers and refining petroleum. But that’s not the only way it can be used, it can also be used to store energy and generate renewable energy.
Interest in hydrogen has increased significantly over the past few years, but the country currently does not produce much hydrogen. For example, only about 260 megawatts of energy from fuel cell electric generators are currently used, while solar power generates about 121 gigawatts. However, hydrogen fuel cells are also being used to power new electric vehicles.
Jacob Leachman, an associate professor of mechanical and materials engineering at Washington State University, told Popular Science that hydrogen fuel cells are more common than you probably realize. “Thirty-three percent of the country’s groceries are currently transported with hydrogen fuel cell forklifts,” Leachman says. He notes that hydrogen fuel cells are widely used in freight and logistics.
As for what hydrogen actually looks like, there are several ways it can be used on the grid. You can use hydrogen for grid energy storage, which can help back up solar and wind power when they aren’t generating much power. Essentially, this involves using clean energy for the electrolysis of water to create hydrogen fuel to generate electricity. Renewable energy powers a process that can actually store energy for later.
You can also burn hydrogen in a power plant to generate electricity, but this is usually done by mixing it with natural gas, which means it still contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. That said, many hydrogen-only power plants are currently under development in Europe and elsewhere.
A hydrogen hub is considered a region where a new center of hydrogen production is formed. This can create jobs and make hydrogen resources more available for various uses. Many states are working together, often forming consortia, to plan this and compete for the new funding.
Texas has started hydrogen production in the Houston area. But several consortia of states are teaming up to create regional hubs, including the Pacific Northwest and California, Rocky Mountain states like Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, and a consortium from northeast including New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Jersey.
Considering that hydrogen has many uses, states looking to become “hydrogen production hubs” have a variety of reasons for wanting to get in the game. Leachman says conservative states might seek to produce hydrogen primarily for industrial purposes and that liberal states could use hydrogen energy to increase their clean energy capacity. There is also a push for renewable energy in conservative states.
“Every state and every region has a different play on hydrogen hubs. A lot of them are very focused on renewables,” says Leachman. “Every region has a different way of playing which is really an advantage for them.”
Distributing hydrogen production across the country will mean that all states will have access to and familiarity with hydrogen resources for energy and other uses. Leachman says that will have a big effect.
“The Hydrogen Hubs initiative requires hubs to be regionally distributed across the United States, which means, by nature, we will have hydrogen hubs that will be placed in places where we have never had a resource. into hydrogen,” Leachman said. “It’s going to drive huge fundamental shifts in goods, services, and energy across the United States in ways that are very hard to imagine.”
Leachman says the new hydrogen production in so many parts of the country could mean that hydrogen becomes a much more normalized source of energy. People can see the facilities in their own communities and the jobs that will be created through them.
Hydrogen production appears to be well on its way to becoming a rapidly growing industry in the United States, and this will clearly affect all regions of the country. Goldman Sachs says hydrogen production could become a $1 trillion market in the not too distant future. Soon we may be using it to power our homes instead of just making fertilizer.