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The Contenders, Part 2 - To Survive DOE's Hydrogen Hub Cutdown, Certain Factors May Prove Critical

The U.S. is gearing up to provide billions of dollars in financial support for a series of regional clean hydrogen hubs and had what amounts to an informal cutdown at the end of December, announcing that 33 project proponents had been formally encouraged to submit a full application this spring. Although the Department of Energy (DOE) didn’t name any of the projects on the “encouraged” list, we’ve been able to identify many of the proposals — and add five more in today’s blog — even though a lot of project details remain under wraps. In today’s RBN blog, we’ll look at the new projects on our list and examine the major factors that are likely to influence a project’s viability.

As we noted in Part 1 of this blog series, the U.S. has made clean hydrogen a priority, with the federal government’s Regional Clean Hydrogen Hubs (H2Hubs) program intended to accelerate the process. The DOE opened up $7 billion in funding (courtesy of 2021’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act) in September 2022 for the development of six to 10 hubs. For the first stage of the process, the DOE’s Office of Clean Energy Demonstration (OCED), which will administer the hydrogen-hub funding, required interested parties to submit concept papers about their planned projects. (The OCED is also managing the development of hubs built around direct air capture, or DAC, which we wrote about in Stuck in the Middle With You, Part 2.)

“Clean” hydrogen is hydrogen that is produced with low net lifetime greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Generally, it is produced either by running water through nuclear- or renewables-powered electrolyzers or by running natural gas through SMRs or ATRs — steam methane reformers and auto-thermal reformers, respectively — and capturing and sequestering most of the resulting carbon dioxide (CO2). (To catch the latest developments and project announcements, check our weekly Hydrogen Billboard.) A clean hydrogen hub, then, is “a network of clean hydrogen producers, potential clean hydrogen consumers, and connective infrastructure located in close proximity.” There were five key criteria for hub projects — geographic diversity, end-use diversity, feedstock diversity, hubs in natural gas production areas, and employment — so we can see how well the proposals we know about fit the stated criteria and how they match our previous expectations about which ones would have the best chances. And, as we’ll get to shortly, the planned implementation of the various projects to achieve those criteria will be critical in determining their success.

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