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Cabinet leaders see Del. work on hydrogen tech

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U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm (left red) and Labor Secretary Marty Walsh (right green) spent time at Air Liquide’s Innovation Center in Glasgow on Friday hearing from Delaware leaders. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

NEWARK – The Biden administration has invested billions of dollars to further the development of clean hydrogen technology as part of its strategy to combat climate change, and last week two of the president’s Cabinet secretaries got a close-up look at how Delaware may fit into the equation.

U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and Labor Secretary Marty Walsh jointly visited Air Liquide’s Innovation Center in Glasgow on Friday to see the French company’s research on green hydrogen production and carbon capture technology, as well as hear from a number of other Delaware companies and organizations working in the spaces. They were joined by Ali Zaidi, the deputy White House national climate advisor for President Joe Biden.

Although the visit was billed as a roundtable discussion, the day had clear tones of a sales pitch on the breadth of Delaware’s involvement in the hydrogen sector as Granholm’s federal department prepares to open a grant process for $8 billion in federal funding for “hydrogen hubs” around the country to increase the supply, infrastructure, and research into hydrogen power. That funding is expected to be very competitive with a number of Northeast and Rocky Mountain states already banding together in two different partnerships on proposals.

That investment comes as the value of such technology is set to explode as well. According to a study released this month from Transparency Market Research, the global green hydrogen market will expand from $2.14 billion last year to $135.73 billion by 2031, a compound annual growth rate of an astounding 51.6%.

U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm talks with stakeholders Friday in Delaware. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

“We know that there’s a huge opportunity in jobs and energy related to hydrogen,” Granholm told the stakeholders.

She noted that the details of the grant program would be out in a few weeks, but the Department of Energy would seek applicants with a diversity of geography, fuel stock and end users as well as those who could provide prevailing wages for workers and contribute to environmental justice and equity.

The investment in research and production hubs around the country will dovetail with the recently signed Inflation Reduction Act’s tax credit of $3 per kilogram produced of green hydrogen for the next decade. That’s a significant incentive that will lower the production cost of non-polluting “green” hydrogen below its polluting “gray” hydrogen version that is more common today.

“There is really incentive for the private sector to get in the game. We want to create economic opportunity ecosystems across this country which is why we’re going to be looking at the partnerships that are brought to the table to be able to give communities an opportunity and to benefit from this hydrogen economy,” Granholm added.

U.S. Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), who has been at the forefront on efforts to advance hydrogen production, was more pointed in the intent of the trip.

U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh said the green economy could add hundreds of thousands of well-paying jobs. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

“The whole point of this afternoon was to present before the secretaries and the [White House] advisor, the remarkable combination of cutting-edge, hydrogen-related companies here in Delaware that are doing world class research that may not be as widely known outside of Delaware as they are here,” he said.

During the tour of Air Liquide’s Innovation Center, the leaders of the French industrial gas giant showed off its work in hydrogen production from renewable sources like electrolysis, which splits the hydrogen from oxygen in water; the capture and reuse of biogas from landfills and animal waste; the infrastructure to use liquid hydrogen as automotive fuel; and the technology to capture carbon dioxide from the air before it can harm the atmosphere.

Afterward, a panel of leaders from Air Liquide, Chemours, PBF Energy, W. L. Gore & Associates, Bloom Energy, Compact Membrane Systems, and the University of Delaware updated the Cabinet secretaries on their advancements in hydrogen and associated sciences.

Adam Peters, CEO of Air Liquide North America, noted that his company has invested $5 billion globally, and $1 billion in the U.S., in its work on green hydrogen. It expects to invest another $10 billion globally by 2035, and he hopes a significant chunk of that lands in America.

“I believe that the work done through the IRA and the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act are going to be great accelerators for making that happen,” he said.

Chemours CEO Mark Newman describes his company’s advancements with hydrogen technology. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

Chemours CEO Mark Newman said his DuPont spinoff company lies at the “heart of the hydrogen economy,” primarily through its proprietary Nafion membrane. The company is nearing a partnership with the U.S. Department of Defense, the University of Delaware and fuel cell maker Plug Power on the production of clean hydrogen to fuel heavy military vehicles, he said.

Bloom Energy, which manufactures a fuel cell that originally produced electricity by burning natural gas but is increasingly turning toward green hydrogen, has hired 150 new manufacturing employees at its Newark plant this year, said Paul Wilkins, vice president of federal policy at the company.

“We’re doing most of the training in house. People can come in with a high school degree, or even just a GED, and get a well-paying manufacturing job,” he added, noting that Bloom has had to invest in partnerships and human resources to fill its needed positions.

Erica Nemser, CEO and founder of Compact Membrane Systems, noted that her growing company was aided by its Delaware partnerships: Many of its workers are UD graduates, its first pilot plant was at PBF Energy’s Delaware City Refinery, and its pending demonstration plant will launch at Braskem just over the Delaware border in Pennsylvania.

U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm looks at an Air Liquide membrane with U.S. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester on Friday. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

“We all know part of the energy transition is going to be new technologies moving forward, leveraging the scale of every organization at this table,” she said.

Wen Liu, global technology leader for clean technologies at W. L. Gore, noted that her company has been involved in the development of fuel cells for more than 25 years, dating back to early research efforts with General Motors and Toyota.

“Gore has really established itself to be a dominant component of the fuel cell market, with more than a 95% share of the global market,” she said, noting that most electric vehicles outside of China have a Gore component in its workings.

Today, W. L. Gore is furthering its research into green hydrogen production and energy storage, Liu added

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