The Division of Vitality kicked off a brand new $8 billion program yesterday to develop a community of hubs for producing hydrogen as a clear gasoline. It’s a milestone for one of many Biden administration’s most contentious methods for tackling local weather change.

Hydrogen has the potential to slash emissions from a number of the industries which can be the toughest to wash up. It’d exchange coal utilized in making metal or fossil fuels that energy diesel vans and cargo ships. When burned, it produces water vapor as an alternative of greenhouse fuel emissions (though it will probably nonetheless contribute to nitrogen oxide air pollution within the air).

The tough half is that not all hydrogen is created the identical manner and might include totally different advantages and pitfalls. In the intervening time, most hydrogen is made utilizing fuel. To make hydrogen from fuel, methane reacts with high-temperature steam beneath excessive strain. That course of releases carbon dioxide, after which there’s the menace to the local weather that comes from methane leaks throughout your complete fuel trade. Methane is an much more potent greenhouse fuel than carbon dioxide.

So, the Biden administration wants to wash up hydrogen manufacturing earlier than it will probably use hydrogen to decarbonize different industries. The DOE laid out a part of its plan to wash up that course of yesterday when it filed a Discover of Intent (NOI), a doc saying that it plans to announce a funding alternative in September or October to develop clear hydrogen hubs, which it calls “H2Hubs.”

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Regulation offers funding for not less than 4 hubs; the NOI says the DOE is contemplating funding between six and 10 hubs to start out its program. Of these hubs, not less than one is meant to make hydrogen utilizing renewable power. One other hub is meant to energy hydrogen manufacturing with nuclear power. And, not less than one hub ought to have the ability to present it will probably make clear hydrogen from fossil fuels by pairing it with applied sciences that seize and sequester carbon dioxide emissions. However the DOE additionally says it is going to search for not less than two hubs in areas with “plentiful pure fuel assets,” which might result in extra H2Hubs working on fossil fuels than renewable power.

Clear power consultants are watching the DOE’s strikes intently on the subject of hydrogen. If the DOE isn’t cautious about what sorts of tasks it chooses, all of the hype for hydrogen might give the fuel trade a lift at a time when analysis reveals the world needs to be phasing out the soiled gasoline to stop extra catastrophic local weather change.

Hydrogen manufacturing that pairs fuel with carbon seize doesn’t create a very clear gasoline and will even result in extra greenhouse fuel emissions in sure situations. When that form of hydrogen is used to warmth buildings, for instance, it may be even dirtier than the heating methods it replaces, researchers from Stanford and Cornell present in a research revealed final 12 months. That’s primarily as a result of fuel manufacturing and use is rife with methane leaks from wells, pipelines, and even home equipment in properties and companies. It’s an enormous local weather downside that would prolong to gas-based hydrogen hubs.

Due to that danger, the Division of Vitality must tighten up its requirements for what’s thought of a clear hydrogen mission, say consultants on the nonprofits Union of Involved Scientists and RMI. Its $8 billion in funding for clear hydrogen comes from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Regulation handed final 12 months, and the language within the regulation solely considers the local weather impression of CO2 emissions on the web site of hydrogen manufacturing.

A safer strategy, in accordance with the nonprofits, could be to scrutinize all greenhouse fuel emissions that come from your complete provide chain and the method of creating hydrogen. In an indication that the DOE would possibly maintain that in thoughts because it assesses functions for funding, the NOI it issued this week says the division “intends to additionally consider full lifecycle emissions for every utility and can give desire to functions that cut back GHG emissions throughout the complete mission lifecycle.”

Actually “inexperienced hydrogen,” in distinction, is made with renewable energy-powered electrolysis that splits water to get to the hydrogen. This course of is much less polluting, however, in the mean time, it’s nonetheless dearer than making hydrogen with fuel and carbon seize as a result of electrolyzers are expensive.

The Biden administration is working to deliver that price down. President Joe Biden approved using the Protection Manufacturing Act yesterday to bolster home provide chains for clear power applied sciences, together with electrolyzers. The Division of Vitality launched an initiative final 12 months aimed toward dropping the price of clear hydrogen by 80 % to $1 per kilogram by the top of the last decade.

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