The new $1trn US infrastructure bill — passed by the House of Representatives on Friday night after months of wrangling, and by the Senate in August — will light a fire under the American clean hydrogen sector, legislating for:
- A national H2 strategy and roadmap;
- $9.5bn of federal cash to be spent on the nascent industry’s development, including a push to reduce the cost of green hydrogen to less than $2/kg by 2026 (from more than $5/kg today); and
- The creation of at least four regional hubs for the production and usage of green, blue and pink (nuclear) hydrogen.
The section of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act devoted to hydrogen research and development was unchanged between the Senate and House versions of the legislation, with the first line stating the importance of H2: “Congress finds that hydrogen plays a critical part in the comprehensive energy portfolio of the United States.”
President Joe Biden said he may sign the bill into law as soon as next week.
“Generations from now, people will look back and know this is when America won the economic competition for the 21st Century,” he said.
Definition of ‘clean hydrogen’
Importantly, the bill gives a definition for “clean hydrogen” — namely H2 that is manufactured in any manner that emits 2kg or less of carbon-dioxide equivalent for every kilogram of hydrogen produced.
This includes renewables-derived green H2, the “blue” variety produced from fossil fuels with carbon capture and storage, and hydrogen produced from nuclear power, often described as “pink”. The definition is to be reviewed after five years by the Energy Secretary, the bill states.
Grey hydrogen, produced from unabated natural gas or coal, emits roughly 9-12kg of CO2 for every kilogram of hydrogen. Roughly speaking, this would mean that 80-90% of the CO2 emitted from steam methane reforming or coal gasification would need to be captured and stored indefinitely to meet the criteria for clean H2.
The legislation does not mention waste-to-hydrogen technology, for which the first commercial project agreements were recently signed in the US.
Research and development programme
The infrastructure bill legislates for the creation of a Clean Hydrogen Research and Development Program, which aims to “demonstrate and commercialize the use of clean hydrogen in the transportation, utility, industrial, commercial, and residential sectors”; and to “demonstrate a standard of clean hydrogen production” by 2040.
This includes the use of clean H2 for power generation; residential and commercial heating and hot water; light- medium- and heavy-duty road vehicles; rail travel; aviation; shipping; and industrial applications such as “steelmaking, cement, chemical feedstocks, and process heat”.
The storage and transportation of clean hydrogen and “hydrogen-carrier fuels” is also included in the R&D programme, whether they be in gaseous, liquid or solid forms. And there is a specific mention of the retrofitting of existing natural-gas infrastructure to transport hydrogen, H2 blends or hydrogen carriers.
Targets will be established by the Energy Secretary within 180 days of the bill’s enactment, to “address near-term (up to 2 years), mid-term (up to 7 years), and long-term (up to 15 years) challenges to the advancement of clean hydrogen systems and technologies”.
Regional clean hydrogen hubs
As part of the R&D programme, $8bn will be allocated in the fiscal years 2022-26 to help establish at least 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 requires the Energy Secretary — a position currently occupied by Jennifer Granholm — to solicit proposals for these hubs within 180 days of the bill’s enactment.
Significantly, the bill also calls upon the Energy Secretary to select at least one hub proposal from each of the three clean-hydrogen production routes: fossil fuels, renewables, and nuclear energy.
Also, each of the hubs should demonstrate different uses of clean hydrogen: power generation, industrial manufacturing, residential and commercial heating, and transportation.
The bill also calls for each regional hub to be located in different parts of the US, using energy sources “that are abundant in that region”.
These criteria are not set in stone, however, as the bill merely requires the Energy Secretary to meet them “to the maximum extent practicable”.
Incidentally, this $8bn is higher than the $7.5bn allocated in the bill to building a national network of electric-vehicle chargers.
The infrastructure bill also authorises the Energy Secretary to spend $500m over the 2022-26 financial period on multi-year grants — and contracts with companies and organisations — to advance clean hydrogen research, development and demonstration projects, including for production, processing, delivery, storage or usage of the H2.
The priority here, the bill states, is to increase the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of clean-hydrogen technology.
This funding will also be used to increase the reuse and recycling of clean hydrogen technologies.
A further $1bn will be spent on grants and contracts as part of a “research, development, demonstration, commercialization and deployment program” that aims to reduce the cost of hydrogen produced from electrolysers to less than $2/kg by 2026 — as well as “any other goals the Secretary determines”.
All types of electrolysers will be considered, with a particular emphasis on reducing or eliminating the need for expensive platinum-group metals, and the development of technology that can produce hydrogen from “complex mixtures with impurities, including seawater”.
Hydrogen strategy and roadmap
The infrastructure bill also requires the US Energy Secretary to submit to Congress a “technologically and economically feasible national strategy and roadmap to facilitate widescale production, processing, delivery, storage, and use of clean hydrogen” within 180 days of the act passing. They will include interim goals and be updated at least once every three years.
In addition, the hydrogen strategy and roadmap would include identifying opportunities to use existing infrastructure for H2, including natural-gas networks; to transport hydrogen by pipeline, rail and “through ports”; and to integrate H2 production with “high-value heat, electricity, and chemical synthesis services”.
Note: A version of this article was originally published in August as the Senate voted on the bill, and has been updated to reflect the House vote.