Emissions from federally funded hydrogen hubs are likely to be reduced, but could become as dirty as coal without proper supervision, a team of experts has warned.
The 2021 Infrastructure Act includes funding for hubs, which will produce hydrogen for a variety of uses – including powering commercial trucks and industrial equipment and potential trains. But the United States Department of Energy (DOE) needs to carefully consider how hydrogen is produced and used, according to a recent blog post on nonprofit RMI.
Hydrogen can be produced by electrolysis with minimal carbon emissions, with electricity generated from renewable sources, RMI noted. But other methods – such as the production of hydrogen from natural gas – could be as dirty as coal, the company said.
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This week, the DOE will open a competitive process for the $ 8 billion funding earmarked for hydrogen hubs, so now is an important time to consider what constitutes “clean” hydrogen, RMI argues.
This process will probably involve more clearly defined values. Ideally, these values would reduce the carbon intensity of the entire production cycle of hydrogen by at least 80% from the most common current process (which uses methane), and would include a carbon intensity calculation that goes beyond emissions at the production site, the group said.
The possibility of hydrogen going from very clean to very dirty has made the hubs controversial since they were proposed. An early version of the infrastructure bill even discussed coal as a potential source.
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Relaxing regulations could also lead to the spread of “blue hydrogen”, which is billed as a cleaner alternative to current production methods but can still be very carbon intensive. The blue hydrogen produced produces the carbon dioxide that is captured, theoretically ensuring that it never enters the atmosphere. But a 2021 study found that emissions from the process were actually 20% higher than coal.
Cleaner options exist. An initiative has been proposed to generate fuel-cell waste trucks with hydrogen that they pull. In 2021, hydrogen firm SG H2 Energy announced a California facility that claims to have lower carbon emissions than electrolysis.