America needs to act to head off the prospect of China dominating the fast-growing global hydrogen sector, said climate envoy John Kerry as he joined Bill Gates at an event designed to help the US claim a leading role.

Kerry – who is travelling to China this week to discuss policy ahead of the COP26 climate summit later this year – said apart from the decarbonising potential of H2, “there is an enormous economic benefit for the US to lead on developing clean technologies” in what will be a “multi-trillion dollar” global industry.

Kerry said: “China wants to dominate this market, just as they’ve leaped out to a lead on a range other clean energy technologies.

“That’s why it’s critical for us to build our own competitiveness.”

The climate envoy was speaking at a summit convened by the US Department of Energy (DOE) to advance its Hydrogen Earthshot initiative, which aims to drive down the cost of “clean hydrogen” to $1/kg by 2030 while spurring technology demonstrator projects.

Addressing the summit separately, Microsoft billionaire Gates said hydrogen is one of four technology areas that could benefit from $1.5bn of finance under a partnership announced in early August between his Breakthrough Energy climate fund and the DOE.

Projects to kick start the technologies – which also include energy storage, direct air capture and sustainable aviation fuel – can mobilise ten times that sum under public-private partnerships, said Gates.

He said a “significant amount of resources for this work” would come from the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

“It includes $9.5bn for hydrogen-related projects. This will help the US be the leader in that field,” said Gates.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, already passed by the US Senate, but yet to be signed off by the Democrat majority in the House of Representatives, spells out an aim to reduce the cost of green H2 to less than $2/kg as early as 2026.

It also creates four regional clean hydrogen hubs, which the bill defines as “network[s] of clean hydrogen producers, potential clean hydrogen consumers, and connective infrastructure located in close proximity... that can be developed into a national clean hydrogen network to facilitate a clean hydrogen economy”.

The bill also calls upon the energy secretary to select at least one hub proposal from each of three clean-hydrogen production routes: fossil fuels (with carbon capture and storage), renewables, and nuclear energy.