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MACH2 Partnership: Working to Advance a Future Run by Hydrogen

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Hydrogen has the potential to be the non-polluting fuel of the future. It’s the most abundant element on the planet. A kilogram of hydrogen has as much energy as a gallon of gas and, when used in fuel cell technology, the only byproduct is water. For those reasons and a possible 20,000 jobs, Delaware joined with the southeastern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey region to create MACH2.

MACH2, the Mid-Atlantic Clean Hydrogen Hub, is a consortium of energy producers, distributors, users and other interested parties such as chemists, union representatives and environmentalists looking to establish a clean-energy hydrogen hub. They submitted a grant request to the US Department of Energy (DOE) asking for $900 million in matching funds from the federal Regional Clean Hydrogen Hubs program to make it work.

The federal government is looking to create six to eight different geographic areas with the designation as a regional hydrogen hub, says Greg Patterson, the infrastructure implementation coordinator for Delaware.

The funding would be used to set up how hydrogen would be created, how it would be transported and who or what would be using it. The where is already chosen.

“Our region has a history steeped in energy,” says Joe Colella, president of Schuyler Energy Logistics and Marketing, LLC, on why he thinks MACH2 has a good chance at the funding. The tri-state region had seven petroleum refineries at one time; of those, only three are in operation now. But all the infrastructure — storage containers, pipelines, machinery — from the others is still there. With retrofitting, MACH2 members believe it can all be used for hydrogen rather than oil.

“We have great real estate,” says Brendan Williams, vice president of government relations for PBF Energy, who agrees that this region is perfect for hydrogen production and distribution. MACH2 member PBF has a 5,000-acre refinery off of I-95, on the water. “There is the ability to do a lot of things on-site. You can build a lot of wind, solar. You have enough space to house a bunch of electrolyzers.”

“We have the tech, talent and infrastructure,” says Dora Cheatham, executive director of Delaware Sustainable Chemistry Alliance. While she is both secretary and treasurer of MACH2, most of its members simply call her “The Glue.” She is the person who first started pulling the different groups together to form the coalition — and it’s a large coalition.

Making Hydrogen Affordable, Reliable

Hydrogen can be used in manufacturing and to power vehicles — like buses, tractor trailers or oceangoing vessels. It can be used in fuel cells to create electricity for large projects. It can be used just about anywhere fossil fuels are being used now.

For example, it’s already being used to run the forklifts at the Delaware Amazon facilities. It would most likely be used in mass-transit operations — long-haul tractor trailers and air travel. The Delaware Transit Corporation (DTC) recently received funding to purchase four hydrogen fuel cell buses by 2025, according to John Sisson, CEO of DTC. Bloom Energy, with manufacturing facilities in Delaware, makes a hydrogen fuel cell that can be used to power entire factories.

But there’s a catch.

“Hydrogen fuel-cell buses offer longer range than battery electric buses, but we know we still have a lot to learn about their performance. This includes establishing a reliable source of hydrogen for fuel,” says Sisson.

Hydrogen fuel cells are not a major part of the Bloom Energy portfolio because of the cost of hydrogen and the fact that it just isn’t widely available, says Rick Beuttel, vice president of Bloom Energy’s hydrogen business.

Hydrogen doesn’t occur naturally by itself. It’s always attached to other molecules, like oxygen to make H2O. To get hydrogen on its own requires those molecules to be separated using heat or a process called electrolysis. Trouble is that most of those processes create more carbon pollution than is saved by using hydrogen.

Then there’s the cost. Currently, clean hydrogen costs about $5 a kilogram (a little more than a quarter of a gallon), according to DOE. One of DOE’s goals is to reduce the cost to $1 a kilogram by 2031.

Part of the MACH2 grant is to be used to create reasonably priced green, blue and pink hydrogen. Green is created using renewable energy like wind and solar; blue uses natural gas/ fossil fuels, but captures all the carbon emissions; and pink is created using nuclear energy.

MACH2 stakeholder members, like the founders of Newark-based Versogen, believe affordable zero-emission hydrogen is totally possible. Versogen has created new electrolyzer technology that uses water and renewable energy to produce green hydrogen at scale, reliably and affordably. According to its website, Versogen has plans to grow its technology and the company by adding at least 49 new engineering, manufacturing and executive jobs over the next three years.

If MACH2’s application is successful, Delaware’s hydrogen hub is expected to generate many additional jobs — in all, more than 20,000 jobs in building facilities, running facilities, and developing the processes.

Each entity in MACH2 has also agreed to use union labor when possible, meaning those 20,000 jobs will be well-paid, says Colella. He also notes that the 20,000 number doesn’t include ancillary businesses created in the process, such as the restaurants and shopping areas needed to supply the workers.

But whether or not MACH2 succeeds in its application, “it’s amazing how many companies [in Delaware] are involved in the hydrogen value chain,” says Cheatham. Companies in that chain include Bloom, which makes electrolyzers, as well as W.L. Gore and DuPont, which make membranes and water technologies needed in hydrogen production. “In terms of economic development in Delaware, it could be substantial. You’re going to see this clean energy technology really change the world of chemistry in Delaware.”

If federal funds do come through, there are a lot of possible beneficiaries, says Patterson. “If we are successful in [this grant], what it will mean is not only helping lead the way on a hydrogen economy and transition to a fuel that’s better for the environment, but it would also mean a lot of jobs.”

The momentum is building, says Cheatham. In February, it was announced that MACH2 had advanced to the final round for the grant program.

All in all, Cheatham is optimistic about MACH2’s chances at receiving the federal grant. “We have a pretty good story.”

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