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DOE insights show diverse regional paths to US hydrogen economy emerging

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DOE insights show diverse regional paths to US hydrogen economy emerging

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Several U.S. regions see hydrogen fueling for road transport playing a key role in kickstarting a local hydrogen economy, according to stakeholders gathered by the U.S. Energy Department.
Source: onurdongel/iStock/Getty Images Plus

At the outset of an emerging hydrogen economy, regions across the U.S. are considering diverse pathways for producing low-carbon hydrogen and scaling demand, data from the U.S. Energy Department suggests.

The highly preliminary view into how the U.S. hydrogen landscape could develop over the next decade comes from responses to a recent DOE request for information from hydrogen stakeholders. The DOE conducted the request for information as part of the Hydrogen Shot, a program that aims to cut low-carbon hydrogen costs by 80% to $1 per kilogram within 10 years. The DOE shared insights from those responses during a two-day summit.

"What this does is it helps inform us ... on where we're going to make those important research and development decisions to help satisfy these hydrogen Earth Shot goals, as we look to reduce the costs, but also address the carbon intensity issues associated with any of the pathways that might be using" fossil fuel feedstocks, John Litynski, deputy director for advanced fossil technology systems at the DOE's Office of Fossil Energy, said during an Aug. 31 panel.

The DOE received more than 200 responses to its requests for information through July 7, reflecting perspectives from regional representatives, Native American tribes, investors and the industry. The responses described hydrogen production resources, possible end-uses, and the potential emissions reductions and economic impacts of hydrogen production across regions.

Regions identify diverse resources

One key finding was substantial interest in utilizing the nation's abundant natural gas resources, paired with carbon capture technology, to produce blue hydrogen. Over the long term, many industry watchers expect green hydrogen produced using zero-carbon power to become dominant, but it has a longer path to cost parity with standard, emissions-intensive hydrogen production.

Out of a subset of 195 responses to the request for information, 92 involved fossil fuel resources; 53 involved geological storage or carbon capture, utilization, and storage; and 59 involved some type of gasification or high-temperature thermal conversion, both of which use fossil fuels as a feedstock. Responses that mentioned the Gulf Coast accounted for the most expressions of interest in fossil energy and carbon management, followed by respondents who mentioned the Northeast-Appalachia and Mountain-Midwest regions.

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Respondents who mentioned the West Coast-Southwest regionwhich produced a large volume of responsesexpressed less interest in fossil fuel-based hydrogen pathways. Responses focused on the Southeast-mid-Atlantic region produced relatively few responses and the fewest related to fossil fuels and carbon management.

The Southwest, Central U.S. and Great Lakes regions all touted nuclear resources that could be harnessed for hydrogen production, according to the DOE. The Pacific Northwest, Gulf Coast, Alaska and Hawaii noted their potential to produce hydrogen using renewable power, the agency said. The Southwest focused on its underutilized solar resources, while the Central U.S. and New England highlighted their wind power potential, the DOE said.

On the environmental justice front, the Southwest and Pacific Northwest noted the potential for hydrogen to support tribal and Latino communities, while Gulf Coast respondents identified possibilities to invest in distressed communities through opportunity zones. Representatives of several Native American tribes and federations expressed interest in developing hydrogen resources and urged the DOE to treat them as equal partners, not only as potential off-takers for the fuel.

Energy-producing states seek pole position

Some of the states most often mentioned by respondents included California, New York, Texas and Washington. The Western U.S. and states surrounding the Appalachian shale gas hub also generated substantial commentary among respondents, the DOE data showed, with energy-producing states seeing opportunities to build on existing resources.

Texas seeks to build a hydrogen industry from its natural gas and renewable resources, geological storage capabilities, existing infrastructure and low electric power costs, Mike Lewis, senior researcher at the University of Texas at Austin's Center for Electromechanics, said during the summit. Texas sees an opportunity to develop heavy-duty truck refueling networks, but stakeholders are also exploring hydrogen exports from the Gulf Coast, according to Lewis, who leads the center's work on the DOE-backed H2@Scale project.

In north central Pennsylvania, the KeyState to Zero project aims to produce blue hydrogen for heavy-duty truck fueling and ammonia and urea production, using dedicated natural gas wells and on-site carbon capture technology, KeyState Chairman and CEO Perry Babb said. Through vertical integration, the project aims to demonstrate that it can accurately measure and remediate fugitive methane emissions, drive down costs to $1/kg and achieve a carbon capture rate exceeding 90%, Babb said.

Equinor ASA also aims to decarbonize its Appalachian natural gas operations by developing a tristate hydrogen hub with production facilities located in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia connected by an interstate hydrogen and CO2 infrastructure system, said Neri Askland, Equinor's senior adviser for international exploration and production who leads the company's U.S. decarbonization initiative.

Bakken Energy seeks to cut methane emissions from the state's shale oil industry by using associated natural gas in a proposed North Dakota blue hydrogen hub, Bakken Energy CEO Mike Hopkins said. Key to the development is the company's plan to transform a synfuels plant outfitted with carbon capture technology into the nation's largest blue hydrogen production facility.

Zero-carbon power seeks a role

Developers used the request for information as an opportunity to lay out ways that green power could play into prospective hydrogen development.

For one, the partnership developing the nation's first green hydrogen hub in Los Angeles gave an update on the project at the summit, outlining a vision for a pure hydrogen pipeline system connected to storage facilities in Nevada or Utah.

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State Rep. Melissa Ballard, R-Utah, also pitched Utah as a center for hydrogen production to fuel long-distance trucking, citing the state's position at the crossroads of several interstate highways, its salt dome storage resources and ongoing efforts to expand and green its logistics sector. Ballard urged the DOE to consider hydrogen production from renewable natural gas.

Hawaii County has been developing a green hydrogen vehicle network for several years and is seeking funding to transition fleets and build out fueling and trucking infrastructure over the next five years, according to Riley Saito, an energy specialist with the county's Department of Research and Development. Saito said hydrogen fuel cell vehicles provide the flexibility, range and performance needed for Hawaii County's topography.

Washington Maritime Blue aims to develop a renewable hydrogen cluster to advance Washington state's goal of becoming a global leader in sustainable seaborne industries, said Jennifer States, the organization's vice president for projects and strategy. The cluster aims to produce hydrogen-based shipping fuel and develop fuel cell ships and shore power systems, States added. The plan is to scale up hydrogen use over the next decade, driven first by demand from ferries and port operations and ultimately from ocean-going vessels and fishing fleets.

Meanwhile, Exelon Corp. aims to marshal its nuclear fleet across Illinois, New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland to produce low-carbon hydrogen and bolster the fleet's profitability in challenging merchant power markets, Exelon Vice President of Nuclear Strategy and Development Marilyn Kray said. The DOE is backing a pilot to produce on-site hydrogen production at Exelon's Nine Mile Point plant in Oswego, N.Y. The company is exploring the possibility of selling into a regional hydrogen market, providing long-duration energy storage and blending hydrogen into gas distribution networks, Kray said.