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Clean Hydrogen wins 2023 Reinventing Delaware prize

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Reinventing Delaware Andrew Cottone Pete du Pont Freedom Foundation

Andrew Cottone, the entrant for the Clean Hydrogen idea, won a $15,000 prize for the 2023 Reinventing Delaware competition. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

WILMINGTON – When the Pete du Pont Freedom Foundation established its Reinventing Delaware idea pitch competition eight years ago, it was seeking ideas that would revolutionize the state’s economy.

In announcing Clean Hydrogen as its 2023 Reinventing Delaware award winner on Thursday, the son of the late namesake governor and foundation chair Theré du Pont said the idea “has echoes of the Financial Center Development Act [passed by then-Gov. du Pont] that brought thousands of jobs to our state in just a few years and fueled our economy for decades.”

Championed by Adesis founder and CEO Andrew Cottone, Clean Hydrogen won a $15,000 prize and consulting help to help advance the idea.

There du Pont Freedom Foundation

There du Pont, chair of the Pete du Pont Freedom Foundation, said the Clean Hydrogen idea had “echoes” of his late father’s work to build Delaware’s credit industry. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

It’s essentially an extension of the momentum around the green energy production already underway in the region, especially through the Mid-Atlantic Clean Hydrogen Hub (MACH2) proposed for nearly $1 billion in federal support. Cottone said he expects his idea to dovetail into that work, but focus more squarely on Delaware than MACH2, which is a joint application with Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

“[The MACH2 group] is doing a lot of great work, but we’re trying to push it a little bit further to make Delaware the first state to have a majority of clean energy powering our economy,” he told Delaware Business Times. “What’s exciting about hydrogen is that when you burn it, all you get back is water – no more carbon dioxide. And it burns with three times the power of natural gas or gasoline.”

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.

Delaware has increasingly pitched its unique set of resources on hydrogen production and research to federal and state leaders, hosting Biden Cabinet leaders last summer. The University of Delaware also partnered with Chemours to establish the Center for Clean Hydrogen that aims to improve the processes around hydrogen production, storage and transportation.

Cottone said that he sees his idea involving a variety of partners including UD, startup hydrogen company Versogen, state government, and more. It would also explore avenues to create true green energy with no carbon footprint, including from wind or nuclear power.

Reinventing Delaware Pete du Pont Freedom Foundation

About 100 people turned out Thursday to see the winner announced in the 2023 Reinventing Delaware competition. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

Delaware could also fully utilize the components of hydrogen production: selling the hydrogen and oxygen created, reducing carbon emissions, and even repurposing the electrolysis byproduct: deuterium oxide, also known as heavy water. Cottone’s contract development and manufacturing firm Adesis is an expert in heavy water chemistry.

“It all kind of plays together,” he said.

The next steps for Cottone’s Clean Hydrogen idea would be to establish a leadership board to focus on developing steps to pursue. He noted that while the state’s regulatory framework on renewable energy and hydrogen production may be sufficient for now, he did expect state leaders to meet industry at the table to advance the work.

“It’s going need cooperation with Dover to really get the buy in to transform the entire state’s energy economy,” he said.

In winning the 2023 prize, Clean Hydrogen bested three other finalists, including Spotlight Delaware, which seeks to create a nonprofit newsroom to support state reporting and government oversight; Zero Homelessness, which aimed to take The Springboard Collective’s idea of housing homeless Delawareans in heated cabins with employment and educational services onsite statewide; and Move2Delaware, which aimed to create a plan to incentivize workers to move to Dover from out of state, similar to work done in Tulsa, Okla.

The award given by the nonprofit founded as a legacy of entrepreneurship by the late governor has gone to several highly successful startups in prior years, including Zip Code Wilmington, NERDiT NOW, The Warehouse, Wilmington Green Box and Intern Delaware. Applicants must advance through multiple rounds of judging and hone a pitch about their idea that would improve Delaware as a place to live, work and raise a family.

This program has become so successful that Bank of America recently donated $100,000 to the nonprofit to work with Delaware State University in offering it to the HBCU community nationwide. That program will launch this summer with a pitch competition during the annual HBCU Philanthropy Symposium.

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