The U.S. Energy Dept. plans to formally request more information in coming weeks as it inches closer to decisions about where to concentrate resources to develop hydrogen energy projects in "hubs” across the country, its top hydrogen program official told Congress.

At a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on Feb. 10, Sunita Satyapal, also director of DOE’s office of energy efficiency and renewable energy, said clean hydrogen funding provisions in the recently enacted infrastructure law, as well as sustained annual appropriations, will provide a “tremendous opportunity … to accelerate manufacturing and rollout of hydrogen technologies and enable a competitive, sustainable market.”

The fiscal 2022 funding request for DOE’s hydrogen program, at $400 million, is elevated from the $282 million enacted in fiscal 2021. 

The agency received more than 200 responses to its initial request for information sent last July about potential sites for hydrogen demonstration projects, and announced in December nine regions where hubs could be located or clustered, including the Pacific Northwest, central U.S., Gulf Coast and Appalachia.  

Competition is expected to be fierce as states and cities vie for a portion of the $8-billion allocated in new funding for the hubs, with several lawmakers at the hearing touting locations in their states to host the  hydrogen projects. 

Committee Chairman Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said that while natural gas and coal are abundant in his state, it has also seen growth in renewables.

“We are also in close proximity to hydrogen end-use applications including power plants and refineries so we are well positioned for one of these hydrogen hubs,” he said.

Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) highlighted that state's natural resources, and other lawmakers mentioned the Pacific Northwest, Appalachia, and Wyoming as viable sites for hubs. 

Interest in hydrogen as a clean source of energy has grown among industry, federal officials and many lawmakers from both political parties, who view it as an important piece of a multi-pronged approach to drastically reduce carbon emissions by mid-century. But hydrogen has faced hurdles in terms of cost, scalability and a lack of existing infrastructure to distribute it, as well as safety concerns that have prevented it from progressing beyond the nascent stages. 

Although hydrogen can be created using renewable energy sources such as solar and wind, biomass, and solid waste, it also can be developed using carbon capture and storage technologies (CCUS) at fossil fuel plants. Some environmental groups have contended that federal funding would be better spent on bolstering renewable energy sources, rather than the costly exercise of applying CCUS at high-emitting oil- and coal-fired power plants. 

Manchin said the infrastructure law included $9.5 billion for hydrogen-related projects and hubs, in part to help lower the costs of hydrogen projects.

DOE estimates that hydrogen from renewable energy sources costs about $5 per kilogram, but hopes to reduce that to $1 per kg over the next decade. “In 10 years, If you look at what we’ve done with wind and solar, and how it’s come down in costs and become so competitive,” it’s because Congress invested heavily and provided production tax credits, Manchin said. He said he is hopeful that the law’s funding for hydrogen will give it a similar boost. 

Other panelists at the hearing described conditions for siting hydrogen hubs—ranging from affordable natural gas supply, access to carbon sequestration reservoirs and proximity to existing industrial infrastructure, including natural gas pipelines. Jonathan Lewis, senior counsel at Clean Air Task Force, noted that the jury is still out about whether natural gas pipelines could be safely used to transport hydrogen, or natural gas mixed with hydrogen. 

Michael Graff, chairman and CEO of Air Liquide, said that hydrogen is a necessary ingredient for the energy transition. “As I often say, hydrogen alone will not drive this clean energy transition, but the energy transition will not happen without hydrogen.”