U.S. Bets on Clean Hydrogen

Tuesday, October 24, 2023
In a move intended to accelerate the market for clean hydrogen in the United States, the Biden administration announced that the federal government will invest $7 billion to establish seven regional hydrogen hubs around the country.


“It’s all part of my plan to make things in America,” President Joe Biden said at the announcement event, held October 13 at the Port of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

The government investment—funded through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, passed two years ago—is expected to attract another $40 billion in private sector funding, according to Biden. He said the proposed regional hubs, which include project partners in 16 states, will represent one of the largest investments in advanced manufacturing in U.S. history.

The “transformational” investment, Biden said, will improve economic competitiveness and energy security while combating climate change, and will create tens of thousands of good jobs.

“All across the country, from coast to coast, in the heartland, we’re building a clean energy future here in America, not somewhere else,” he said. He emphasized the potential for clean hydrogen to power heavy industry, such as steel and aluminum, and to change the transportation system for trucks, rail, and airplanes.

The announced projects were selected from 79 proposals submitted to the Department of Energy (DOE), according to news accounts. Many of the coalitions presenting proposals included state and local governments, energy producers, utilities, labor unions, universities, and other partners.

The hubs “will catalyze multistate hydrogen ecosystems that ultimately will expand and connect to form a national hydrogen economy,” the White House said in a statement. It said that roughly two-thirds of the total investment will be associated with the production of green hydrogen—in other words, hydrogen produced through electrolysis, using renewable energy.

Several of the projects include so-called blue hydrogen, which is produced using natural gas combined with carbon capture and storage, and some include plans to use nuclear energy to produce hydrogen (a variation sometimes called pink hydrogen).

Some of the proposed regional hydrogen hubs include a nuclear component. Pictured here, the Nine Mile Point Nuclear Station in Oswego, New York, is already producing clean hydrogen as part of a shared project between the U.S. Department of Energy and Constellation Energy. Credit: Constellation Energy Corporation.

The 2021 infrastructure law specified that at least four clean hydrogen hubs should be developed and that at least one of them should demonstrate the production of clean hydrogen from fossil fuels. Some environmental organizations expressed concern about the inclusion of multiple projects based on natural gas.

“We need strong guardrails to ensure that U.S. hydrogen does not create an emissions mess, and that we are not subsidizing hydrogen that is clean in name only,” Erik Kamrath at the Natural Resources Defense Council, a nonprofit organization, said in a statement. 

Funding for the hydrogen hubs will be approved in phases and only after each project completes certain milestones, according to the Department of Energy; for example, the projects must go through negotiations with the DOE on a plan to ensure tangible community benefits. The estimated time frame for projects to begin operations is two to four years. 

Alex Kizer of the Energy Futures Initiative, a Washington nonprofit organization, told the New York Times that a large-scale hydrogen economy is still “a long, long ways away.”

“Think of these hubs as laboratories of sorts to experiment with potential business models for hydrogen and to try to figure out some of the technological and infrastructure hurdles,” he said.

But Alan Krupnick of the think tank Resources for the Future called the proposed hubs “a game changer,” in comments to the Washington Post. “The scale of this is going to be big,” he said. “These are not just demonstration projects”.


Projects Across the Map



The following proposals were selected for negotiation, according to the White House:

The Mid-Atlantic Hydrogen Hub (Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey) plans to produce hydrogen from renewable and nuclear electricity, using both established and innovative electrolyzer technologies. (Investment amount: up to $750 million.) 

The Appalachian Hydrogen Hub (West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania) will leverage the region’s access to natural gas to produce clean hydrogen and store the associated carbon emissions. (Amount: up to $925 million.)

The California Hydrogen Hub will produce hydrogen from renewable energy and biomass, providing a blueprint for decarbonizing public transportation, heavy-duty trucking, and port operations. (Amount: up to $1.2 billion.)

The Gulf Coast Hydrogen Hub (Texas) has plans for large-scale hydrogen production through both natural gas with carbon capture and renewable energy-powered electrolysis. (Amount: up to $1.2 billion.) 

The Heartland Hydrogen Hub (Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota) aims to use clean hydrogen to help decarbonize the agricultural sector’s production of fertilizer. Its plans include opportunities for partnerships with tribal communities and local farmers. (Amount: up to $925 million.)

The Midwest Hydrogen Hub (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan) plans to produce hydrogen for a range of uses, including steel and glass production and heavy transportation, using renewable energy, natural gas, and nuclear energy. (Amount: up to $1 billion.)

The Pacific Northwest Hydrogen Hub (Washington, Oregon, Montana) will produce hydrogen exclusively from renewable sources and anticipates that its widespread use of electrolyzers will help drive down the costs of this technology. (Amount: up to $1 billion.)

The Department of Energy noted that, in addition to the seven hubs, it is investing $1 billion in a Clean Hydrogen Electrolysis Program, to improve the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of technologies to produce hydrogen from renewable sources such as wind, solar, and nuclear. Another investment of $500 million will support U.S. manufacturing of equipment and development of domestic supply chains, as part of the Clean Hydrogen Manufacturing Initiative under the infrastructure law.

Cover Image: President Biden has been touting the benefits of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, including at this event in July in Philadelphia. The recently announced hydrogen hubs are funded under that 2021 law. Credit: Adam Schultz.