21st July 2024

Hydrogen tank, solar panel and windmills on blue sky background. Sustainable and ecological energy concept. 3d illustration.

By Fred Krupp, Manish Bapna and Armond Cohen

Initially revealed in themessenger.com, December 2023 (not in circulation). 

It’s a make-or-break second for hydrogen’s function in our clear vitality future. Hailed for its potential to flexibly ship vitality with out polluting the local weather, hydrogen may very well be a beneficial local weather resolution if we get it proper. That’s why the Biden administration is deploying huge new incentives to jumpstart a brand new clear hydrogen economic system. However hydrogen isn’t with out danger, which is why the small print of those applications matter.

The Treasury will quickly launch guidelines for billions of {dollars} of fresh hydrogen manufacturing tax credit established beneath the Inflation Discount Act , whereas the Division of Vitality is making ready to disclose the primary initiatives chosen for its $eight billion community of Hydrogen Hubs which incorporates as much as a billion {dollars} to spur hydrogen demand.

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However hydrogen brings local weather challenges of its personal. How it’s produced, managed and used all matter. Get these proper, and these investments may have an unlimited profit. However get these improper, and we danger squandering large assets on initiatives that would improve local weather air pollution by a whole bunch of thousands and thousands of tons whereas worsening native air high quality.

Making hydrogen is extremely vitality intensive: 99% of hydrogen right this moment is produced from fossil fuels, leading to substantial carbon emissions and disproportionate well being impacts

A method of cleansing up manufacturing is to seize and sequester the ensuing carbon dioxide. However even when that is efficiently performed  and there are a lot of challenges to unravel  producers should additionally take accountability for methane emissions upstream on the gasoline provide chain. We all know from research that methane air pollution (80 instances extra highly effective than carbon dioxide within the close to time period) is already a serious drawback that trade has not absolutely addressed.

Hydrogen will also be produced utilizing electrical energy. However even this requires quite a lot of vitality, and with out safeguards to make sure the electrical energy is carbon free, it may take us backward by diverting wind, photo voltaic and different zero-carbon assets and growing technology from fossil fuels. 

Then there’s the hydrogen molecule itself. The smallest aspect on the periodic desk, it’s so tiny that half one million hydrogen molecules can sit side-by-side within the width of a human hair. That makes hydrogen extremely inclined to flee. When it does, scientists say it could possibly lure practically 40 instances extra warmth than CO2 over the primary 20 years within the environment.

There are a number of key steps the Biden administration can take to assist ensure that the hydrogen economic system we’re investing in delivers on its local weather promise. 

The IRA clear hydrogen tax credit are a chance to get hydrogen manufacturing proper  however we shouldn’t subsidize hydrogen that’s clear in title solely. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen’s staff ought to require hydrogen powered by electrical energy to abide by three pillars: Depend on new clear energy, which is positioned in the identical area and operating throughout the identical hours as hydrogen manufacturing. In different phrases, for hydrogen to be climate-friendly it must be produced with clear energy that’s new, close to and now.

Many renewable vitality and hydrogen corporations assist this strategy as being suitable with trade scale-up, and expertise in Europe has already demonstrated that the three pillars will assist trade development. Along with stopping elevated grid air pollution, the three pillars will encourage funding in U.S.-made hydrogen applied sciences that may compete on the worldwide market.

Likewise, hydrogen produced from pure gasoline with carbon seize shouldn’t get a cross for upstream methane air pollution. Companies ought to use extra correct emissions estimates to find out tax credit score eligibility, and producers ought to undertake confirmed greatest practices to forestall methane and hydrogen leaks on the outset. 

Finish-use incentives ought to be focused the place they make local weather sense. This contains makes use of that can not be immediately electrified  akin to heavy industrial processes and delivery or aviation  slightly than makes use of like dwelling heating and cooking or light-duty automobiles. 

Hydrogen Hubs are one other probability to get manufacturing, administration and utilization proper  with the potential to convey in high-quality native jobs, air high quality investments, inclusive siting practices and handle neighborhood issues about disproportionate well being and environmental burdens. The administration ought to goal hard-to-electrify finish makes use of and require successful initiatives to make use of the most recent applied sciences to measure and stop even small hydrogen leaks.

Native engagement ought to be in-built from the beginning, together with robust security requirements and strong protections for air and water. Partnering with communities early not solely promotes good challenge design, however it should assist guarantee the sturdiness of fresh hydrogen as a local weather software. 

Doing hydrogen proper can convey a couple of versatile new vitality useful resource that catalyzes our local weather objectives and secures our spot as a worldwide market chief. However slicing corners dangers squandering billions of {dollars} on unsustainable property and exacerbating air pollution disparities.

Let’s present the world what a U.S. hydrogen economic system can do for the local weather.

Fred Krupp is president of Environmental Protection Fund. 


Manish Bapna is president of Pure Sources Protection Council. 


Armond Cohen is govt director of Clear Air Process Pressure.

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