Investing in innovative technologies and embracing public-private partnerships will be key to our clean energy future, which is why the Department of Energy’s (DOE) recent announcement of its selected “clean hydrogen hubs” was so exciting.
Unfortunately, some environmentalists have decided that this clean energy technology just isn’t good enough.
For context, the DOE announced seven hubs meant to demonstrate new hydrogen technologies that produce little to no emissions. Hydrogen is a fuel source that only releases water and warm air as byproducts. That’s right: There are no carbon emissions or other nasty pollutants associated with clean hydrogen. It can also be used to transport, store, or deliver energy from other sources, such as wind or solar.
The regional hubs are scattered across the United States, from California to Texas to West Virginia, with each hub combining different hydrogen production technologies and end uses. The aim is to test technologies and garner interest to spur private sector investment and confidence in the energy source. Already, the hubs are comprised of public-private teams and have committed private investments of more than five times the amount of federal funding – a shining example of public-private partnerships.
Instead of seeing this as a significant stride toward a clean energy future, some environmentalists have decided to criticize and condemn what should be a joyous moment in the climate advocacy space. Their message is one of skepticism and doubt – stating that this investment in hydrogen is a scapegoat for the oil and gas industry, that it’s not worth our time, and will increase emissions. This sentiment could not be further from the truth.
Yes, the majority of existing hydrogen technologies contribute to emissions, but there is potential for hydrogen to someday be produced with net-zero emissions. The reason clean hydrogen is not yet scalable is due to economic and technological challenges. This is why the DOE’s innovative hydrogen hubs are so crucial – they offer a space where the U.S. can experiment with clean hydrogen technologies, working out the kinks and expediting the technology’s development. It feels necessary to point out the fact that these hydrogen hubs are working to solve the very problems their opponents complain about.
Clean hydrogen, if scalable, could decarbonize sectors of the economy that have very few options to do so. Not to mention, these newer technologies use low-carbon energy sources such as nuclear or natural gas with carbon capture to produce hydrogen. Clean hydrogen could be a game-changer, but we won’t know until further research is conducted.
Specifically, hydrogen offers the opportunity to decarbonize heavy industry, such as chemical, cement, and steel manufacturing. Heavy industry has been traditionally difficult to decarbonize due to several factors, including high heat requirements, long plant lifetimes, process emissions, and highly competitive global markets. According to the IEA, clean hydrogen technologies could account for 50 percent of the industry’s annual emissions reductions by 2070, but not without a major push for innovation. Hydrogen can also be used in other areas, such as long-haul transportation, to reduce emissions.
More so, the hubs are projected to actually reduce carbon emissions by 25 million metric tons – equivalent to removing 5.5 million gas-powered cars from the roads. If the projects are successful and lead to further private-sector investments, this technology’s impact on reducing nationwide emissions could be incredible.