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Delaware advances in federal hydrogen hub program

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Air Liquide hydrogen station H2Hubs MACH2

Bikram Roy Chowdhury, senior research scientist at Air Liquide’s Innovation Center in Delaware, describes the advancements being worked on by their scientists during a congressional visit in 2022. The company is one of 24 partners now working with the Mid-Atlantic Clean Hydrogen Hub (MACH2) proposal in the federal H2Hubs program. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

NEWARK – A coalition of states including Delaware has advanced on to the final application round for the federal H2Hubs grant program, where hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake in funding support for research, production and distribution of clean hydrogen gas.

Hydrogen electrolysis demo web

University of Delaware post-grad researcher Catherine Weiss demonstrates the simplest form of electrolysis, with electrical current splitting water molecules, drawing hydrogen bubbles to the cathode and oxygen to the anode. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

Researchers have increasingly come to believe that hydrogen, the most abundant element in the universe, could be a carbon-free fuel source of the future, powering commercial vehicles, ships and planes without harming the environment. For that to happen, however, the production of hydrogen through the splitting of water molecules in a process known as electrolysis would need to become more efficient, and a nationwide distribution network would need to be established.

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.

Nationwide, many regions and states have banded together to increase their odds of being chosen as one of up to 10 hub sites. Delaware has joined with southeastern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey to form the Mid-Atlantic Clean Hydrogen Hub (MACH2), a nonprofit entity that would receive and distribute funding if selected.

“This is a proposal for companies and entities in Delaware and our neighbor states to lead in the production and use of clean hydrogen, which is a fuel that could reduce air emissions, drive down pollution, and create a new generation of good jobs,” Gov. John Carney said in a statement. “If successful in winning this federal designation as a hydrogen hub, our region can help show the way to a cleaner energy future for our country.”

The DOE reportedly received about 80 concept papers for hubs around the country. After a review, MACH2 was one of just 33 chosen to submit a full application by April 7.

“We believe we have a pretty strong application because we ticked a lot of the boxes that the DOE is looking for,” said Dora Cheatham, executive director of the Delaware Sustainable Chemistry Alliance, an industry trade group, and one of the experts who is helping to prepare the application. “We’re proposing things like using existing infrastructure, developing clean and green hydrogen, using union labor, as well as building the talent pipeline.”

MACH2 will be seeking funding upward of $900 million, or just shy of the maximum $1 billion allocation. The hub includes 24 partners to date, including private companies, public entities including transit departments and airports, and labor unions, that would invest an estimated $3.35 billion in the project too.

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 in 2022 hearing from Delaware leaders. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

Delaware has been helping build the region’s case for landing the funding for more than a year, hosting Labor and Energy Cabinet secretaries at a summit here last summer and launching the Center for Clean Hydrogen, backed by the University of Delaware and Chemours, among others.

The finalists are scheduled to be interviewed by federal officials this summer after a review of the written applications, with the final awardees announced likely this fall, Cheatham said.

Regardless of whether the trio of states can land a hub, Cheatham said she believes clean hydrogen will be a “substantial” driver of economic development in Delaware’s future.

“Everybody’s thinking it’s just hydrogen, but it’s beyond that. It’s all those companies that work behind the scenes too,” she said. “I think it’s going to be huge for Delaware.”

Companies like Air Liquide, PBF Energy and Bloom Energy have been working on hydrogen production and storage while W. L. Gore & Associates, Chemours, DuPont, and Versogen have been working on membranes that are integral to electrolysis. Others like Compact Membrane Systems have been working on carbon capture that could help transition from natural gas-powered electrolysis to renewable energy sources.

One of the biggest advantages that the MACH2 applicants may have in the federal competition is one of its oldest: a decades-old pipeline infrastructure built for now defunct petroleum plants that could be converted into a “hydrogen highway.”

Delaware City Refinery hydrogen H2Hubs

The Delaware City Refinery may one day be home to a sizable hydrogen production facility. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

The Delaware City Refinery owned and operated by New Jersey-based PBF Energy will figure prominently into the MACH2 plans. If approved for support, the company aims to create a plant in Delaware City capable of producing upward of 137 megatons of clean hydrogen a day, according to the MACH2 concept proposal.

“Even within our planning, we’ve looked at how we can leverage that infrastructure to connect to other proposed hubs in western Pennsylvania or New York or the D.C. area,” Cheatham said, noting that interconnectivity could help convince federal officials of the value of an investment here.

Initial projections are that 85 tons of clean hydrogen could be produced and used by companies and entities in the mid-Atlantic region in the early stage of development, which can replace an equivalent amount of daily natural gas combustion. It could reach over 600 tons per day once fully scaled up.

Some of that production would likely go to help support the adoption of hydrogen fuel by long-haul truckers, an industry that could benefit from the fast-fueling, long-lasting energy. Air Liquide, a French chemical company that has its U.S. Innovation Center in Glasgow, is exploring the buildout of eight fueling stations along the Interstate 95 corridor that could help create an environment here that currently only exists in California.

“Bringing a hydrogen hub to Delaware and our region will support good-paying union jobs and help us fight climate change – a win-win,” U.S. Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said in a statement. “Clean hydrogen is the key to reducing emissions in the sectors of our economy, including heavy industry and transportation, which are the hardest to decarbonize. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law supports the production and deployment of clean hydrogen and there isn’t anywhere better in the world for a hydrogen hub than Delaware.”

“The Mid-Atlantic Clean Hydrogen Hub proposal combines our region’s biggest strengths – from our labor workforce and existing infrastructure to our large hydrogen production capacity and diverse demand across an array of industries – to make this an ideal location for a hydrogen hub,” he added.

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