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Coons proposes additional hydrogen support funds

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U.S. Sen. Chris Coons, seen here during a 2022 tour of Air Liquide, has proposed a new package of federal bills that would invest in hydrogen usage, potentially benefitting the long-haul trucking industry. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

WASHINGTON – The advancement of green hydrogen research, production and adoption could get another major boost under a bipartisan proposal co-led by U.S. Sen. Chris Coons.

The Hydrogen Infrastructure Initiative, a package of four federal spending programs, is sponsored by Coons and Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, and backed by five bipartisan cosponsors. In total, the legislation would authorize up to $2.4 billion in new funding to support the production of the greenhouse gas-free fuel source and its adoption by hard-to-abate industries like steel production, maritime shipping and long-haul trucking.

Despite the environmental benefits and abundance of needed resources, the infrastructure necessary to create, store and transport industry-scale green hydrogen does not exist in the U.S. Only California has a limited commercial infrastructure for a few thousand passenger vehicles that run on hydrogen.

The Biden administration has been committed to changing that, however, through sizable investments in hydrogen, including $9.5 billion in the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that notably included the H2Hubs program, and additional tax credit incentives in hydrogen production in the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act that were championed by fellow Delaware Sen. Tom Carper as chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

While billions of dollars in grants and credits are set to flow to industry already, Coons told Delaware Business Times that he saw this legislative package as a targeted way to speed up the transition to hydrogen power even further. It will also help bridge the chicken-and-egg problem of energy use and supply, where suppliers are hesitant to invest in infrastructure without end users, and end users don’t want to invest until there is adequate supply.

Chris Coons hydrogen Air Liquide

Sen. Chris Coons got an upfront look at a hydrogen-powered truck at a 2022 visit to Air Liquide in Glasgow. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

“Transitioning from a fossil fuel economy to a green economy is going to be complex, expensive and difficult. And the private sector is going to have to take most of the risk and make most of the investment,” he said. “In previous efforts at making a similar transition, there have been some pretty big mismatches between when the new, cleaner power source comes online and when there’s robust users for it. If we’re going to manage the transition from fossil fuels to hydrogen on anything less than a 20-year time horizon, so that the incentives in the IRA make sense, we have to move both sides at the same time.”

Included in the initiative is the Hydrogen for Ports Act, which would support the demonstration of hydrogen- and ammonia-fueled equipment at ports and in shipping applications; the Hydrogen for Industry Act, which would support commercial-scale demonstration projects for end-use industrial applications of hydrogen, including in the production of steel, cement, glass, and chemicals; the Hydrogen for Trucks Act, which would support the demonstration of heavy-duty fuel cell vehicles and hydrogen fueling stations while collecting critical data to inform future investments in infrastructure; and the Hydrogen Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (HIFIA), which would create a pilot financing program to provide grants and flexible, low-interest loans for retrofitted or new hydrogen transport infrastructure projects.

“If you look at the transition to hydrogen being a broadly deployed fuel, ports and heavy trucks are two of the most promising early adopters,” Coons said, noting there are already hydrogen-powered heavy trucks and tugs. “Some of the steps that have to be taken for hydrogen to be a feedstock for the production of things like ammonia and bulk chemicals and methanol, and some of the work that has to be done to transport hydrogen by pipeline, will take longer. But having year-over-year and specific authorized amounts will create an intended pipeline for funding for hydrogen.”

The legislation, which has yet to be heard by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, would authorize $500 million over five fiscal years for each of the Hydrogen for Ports Act and HIFIA, $1.2 billion in total for the Hydrogen for Industry Act, and $200 million total for Hydrogen for Trucks Act. Importantly, the bills only authorize the spending, but don’t actually approve the appropriation of the funding. That would have to come during annual budget deliberations after approval of the program outlines.

The support of Republicans like Cornyn, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana makes Coons “cautiously optimistic” that the bills will gain enough support over the next two years to be signed into law by President Biden.

If they are, the funding could be another boost to a host of Delaware companies that are innovating in the green hydrogen industry, including Air Liquide, Chemours, Bloom Energy, PBF Energy, Versogen, and more. The University of Delaware also could be a beneficiary after it opened a Center for Clean Hydrogen to study advancements in hydrogen science between university researchers and private companies like Chemours.

Yushan Yan Center for Clean Hydrogen University of Delaware

Yushan Yan, chair of UD’s chemical and biomolecular engineering program, will lead the Center for Clean Hydrogen. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

Yushan Yan, director of the UD center, a longtime researcher on hydrogen-creating electrolysis and founder of Versogen, endorsed the federal legislation.

“Federal investments in demonstrating the unique ability of hydrogen and fuel cells in decarbonizing the hard-to-abate sectors of our economy, such as heavy industry and long-haul transportation, will not only benefit the state but our country,” he said in a statement.

Chemours CEO Mark Newman concurred, adding in a statement, “To unleash the full benefit of these public and private investments, we need two things — permits to ensure that new facilities can come online and the necessary infrastructure to deliver hydrogen where it is most needed. Sen. Coons has again stepped forward with legislation that will lead the U.S. to a cleaner future, while also boosting American manufacturing and helping achieve U.S. energy independence.”

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