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Chemours, partners awarded $60M in fed hydrogen projects

Katie Tabeling
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Chemours is the only Delaware company to be named a project lead in scores of projects that received millions of federal funding for investing in hydrogen as an energy source. | DBT PHOTO BY KATIE TABELING

WILMINGTON — Out of 52 projects across 24 states, Chemours and a handful of other Delaware institutions were among the few to be awarded a piece of the $750 million in funding to tap into the growing economy around producing and distributing green hydrogen gas.

In total, institutions like University of Delaware and Delaware State University will receive a portion of roughly $60 million, although the final amount each is set to receive is subject to negotiation. But Chemours is the only Delaware-based company to be named a project lead in the wave of millions of grant funding.

In a project that focuses on developing and manufacturing durable membranes for proton exchange membrane water electrolysis, Chemours and its two partners will receive $10 million to research and manufacture fuel cells for engines. Chemours work in Nafion, a ion exchange membrane that the company inherited from DuPont, has already proven it has the in-house expertise and capability to make membranes on a larger scale. 

In 2019, the cost to produce hydrogen by electrolysis was $8 per kilogram, or up to eight times the cost using methane.

“Chemours is committed to using the power of its chemistry to advance the clean energy transition and hydrogen economy. Selection by the U.S. Department of Energy for these grants furthers our leading role and builds on the public, private, and academic partnerships whose collaborative efforts support the global adoption of hydrogen as a clean energy source,” Chemours Hydrogen Business Venture Leader Stefanie Kopchick said in a prepared statement. “Our Nafion ion exchange membranes play a critical role in driving the hydrogen economy and helping to create a more sustainable future, and these funds will help to accelerate their further development as well as taking a proactive approach to building an infrastructure supporting circularity of fuel cells and electrolyzers.”

Under President Joe Biden’s directive, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has set a “hydrogen shot” goal of lowering clean hydrogen cost by 80% to $1 per 1 kilogram in one decade. To advance toward that goal, the Biden administration dedicated up to $7 billion toward the H2Hubs program for the development of regional clean hydrogen hubs, where industry and research universities would expand work on clean hydrogen fuel.

Across the country, regions and states joined forces to increase their chances of being chosen as one of 10 hub sites. Delaware banded with southeastern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey to form the Mid-Atlantic Clean Hydrogen Hub (MACH2), a nonprofit entity that will receive and distribute funding. Last October, MACH2 was named one of the recipients of the $750 million in federal grants.

Gov. John Carney told the Delaware Business Times that the recent award of this round of federal funds for the hydrogen economy reaffirmed Delaware’s role in developing a new energy source.

“As our country develops this new, cleaner source of energy, Delaware companies and organizations have the expertise and ability to lead the way, and that will mean investment, opportunity, and jobs in our state,” Carney said.

While Chemours is not a participant in MACH2, it is a partner in the Appalachian Regional Clean Hydrogen Hub (ARCH2) in West Virginia. But even so, the company is still willing to offer expertise and technical knowledge in membrane technology.

Chemours has long been committed to hydrogen as a fuel source of the future. In 2022, the company announced it would invest $200 million to increase capacity and advance technology for Nafion and has entered into a joint research agreement with  BWT FUMATECH Mobility GmbH on hydrogen-powered vehicles. But this federal grant also signals that Chemours could play an integral role in shaping the hydrogen economy’s supply chain field. With the work with ARCH2, Chemours is also partnering with TC Energy on developing two water electrolysis-based hydrogen facilities at its sites in West Virginia.

“There is something there that the U.S. Department of Energy has acknowledged it as critical to accelerating the hydrogen economy. There’s a few pieces that need to be made, and there’s other companies in this collaboration” said Andrew Park, Chemours Research and Development Senior Principal Engineer. He was the lead on the grant application.  “If they want to maximize the efficiency of making hydrogen through a given amount of electricity, we’re the only domestic manufacturers of these membranes and we have the experience and the research and development capability to develop this product.”

Chemours will also collaborate with the University of Delaware and the international engine manufacturer Cummins on this project. UD Center of Composite Materials and its laboratory research can help study the fundamental nature of membranes and how they interact with each other, while Cummins has top-notch experience in understanding how it could work in a hydrogen-powered engine, Park said.

Chemours was also named as a project partner in H2CIRC, a new consortium dedicated to producing a blueprint for the hydrogen industry to efficiently and sustainably recover and recycle materials and components from fuel cells and electrolyzers.

That project, set to receive $50 million, also includes partners like General Motors; Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; Worcester Polytechnic Institute, UD, DSU, National Renewable Energy Laboratory; Cummins; Oak Ridge National Laboratory; Nel Hydrogen; Plug Power; University of Houston; Strategic Analysis, Inc. among others.

While Park was a principal investigator on Chemours’ membrane project, he did see Chemours’ involvement in H2CIRC as an integral partner to bring to the table to help move the needle on what could be the next energy source of the future.

“If you look at the list, it’s a complete circle of the hydrogen value chain from academia, government labs, industry, suppliers, original equipment manufacturers for one big goal. How do we promote an economy that we can reuse these critical materials over and over again,” he said. “One of the most exciting parts about my work at Chemours is to work with different people from all over the place to make things happen as we make the great green transition. We all have a small part to play.”

The recent U.S. Department of Energy announcement comes at a time when Chemours is under scrutiny. Last month, CEO Mark Newman and financial executives were placed on leave as the board of directors launched an audit into financial controls. 

On March 7, it was announced that Newman and Chief Financial Officer Jonathan Lock and Principal Accounting Officer Carmela Wisel violated the company’s ethics code to alter the appearance of cash flow targets dating back to the end of 2022. Work is still underway on the Chemours audit.

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