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Illinois, Indiana, Michigan Partner for Clean Hydrogen Hub

The Midwest Alliance for Clean Hydrogen is one of 33 groups that submitted final applications in a bid to win up to $1.25 billion in federal funding to develop hydrogen hubs across the nation.

A driver fills the tank of an urban bus with green hydrogen
A driver fills the tank of an urban bus with green hydrogen at the bus depot of the municipal transport company in Palma de Mallorca on April 12, 2023.
(Jaime Reina/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)
(TNS) — A coalition based in Illinois, Indiana and Michigan has taken the next big step in its bid to obtain up to $1.25 billion in federal funding for a regional clean hydrogen hub intended to reduce planet-warming carbon dioxide emissions.

The coalition, the Midwest Alliance for Clean Hydrogen (MachH2), submitted its full application to the U.S. Department of Energy last week.

MachH2 is one of 33 groups that were encouraged to submit final applications in the competition for six to 10 hydrogen hubs spread across the country.

“Hydrogen can help us to decarbonize sectors that are really hard to decarbonize: Things like steelmaking, glass-manufacturing, heavy-duty transportation, aviation,” said Colleen Wright, vice president of corporate strategy at the energy company Constellation, a MachH2 member.

Clean hydrogen, which can be produced using electricity and water, can replace the high-emissions “gray” hydrogen that is already widely used in industry. In addition, clean hydrogen has potential new roles, such as aiding in the production of lower-emissions aviation fuels.

Research on using hydrogen for airplane fuel is still in the early stages, Wright said, but the aviation industry is pursuing that as well.

The hydrogen hubs would build networks of clean hydrogen producers and consumers with the aim of accelerating the growth of production, processing, delivery, storage and use.

The Department of Energy considers clean hydrogen crucial to achieving President Joe Biden’s goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The MachH2 coalition includes more than 60 entities, both public and private, including businesses, universities, government agencies and community groups. Many coalition members are in Illinois, Indiana and Michigan, but Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Kentucky and Wisconsin are represented as well.

In an earlier stage of the application process, MachH2 estimated that a hydrogen hub would support 4,500 construction jobs and 400 permanent positions. Total construction spending was estimated at nearly $4 billion, including $1.7 billion in wages and $65 million to $70 million in state income taxes.

Those numbers would be higher now, due to the expansion of the MachH2 coalition, Wright said, but she declined to give updated estimates.

Today, 95 percent of the hydrogen used in the United States is made using fossil fuels in energy-intensive processes that emit high levels of carbon dioxide. But electricity can be used to separate water into hydrogen and oxygen molecules in a process that does not produce carbon emissions. When the electricity that is used comes from wind, solar or nuclear power, the resulting hydrogen is considered to have near-zero carbon emissions.

The MachH2 coalition’s advantages in the competition for a hydrogen hub include the availability of nuclear, wind and solar energy to produce green hydrogen, and potential uses for green hydrogen in existing factories that now use high-emissions hydrogen for steelmaking, oil refining and ammonia production.

The Illinois portion of the hub would be focused on green hydrogen fueled by renewable energy, but the MachH2 proposal as a whole does include blue hydrogen, which is more controversial. Blue hydrogen is produced with fossil fuels, but a large portion of the carbon dioxide emissions is captured before it can escape into the air. The emissions are either used or buried deep underground.

A 2021 study in Energy Science & Engineering found that greenhouse gas emissions for blue hydrogen were only 9 percent to 12 percent less than for today’s high-emissions gray hydrogen. While carbon dioxide emissions for blue hydrogen improved due to carbon capture technology, emissions of another greenhouse gas — methane — increased due to the additional natural gas needed to power the carbon capture.

Wright said that the blue hydrogen in the MachH2 proposal meets government standards for clean hydrogen.

Seventy-nine groups competed in the first round of the hydrogen hub selection process, of which 33 were encouraged to continue, including MachH2.

Wright said MachH2, which declined to share its hydrogen hub proposal for competitive reasons, expects a decision in the fall.

“We feel like we have a good chance,” she said.

©2023 Chicago Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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