Coalition urges Biden Administration to scrap hydrogen hub plans; advocates push back


A coalition of more than 180 conservation, social justice, Indigenous and other organizations last week pushed the Biden Administration to reject applications to build out regional clean hydrogen hubs, warning that building out hydrogen infrastructure will lead to additional greenhouse gas emissions and pollution.

In the letter, the groups – which include the Center for Biological Diversity and Food and Water Watch – said that 95% of hydrogen produced today is from fossil fuels, and all forms of hydrogen production require large amounts of water. 

“To address the climate emergency, the United States must phase out oil and gas production by 2030, – yet nearly all hydrogen production is from fossil gas,” they wrote. 

Hydrogen advocates, however, pushed back against the letter, saying that the U.S. Congress has made a serious commitment to hydrogen hubs through its Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

“The development of clean hydrogen worldwide is essential to achieve decarbonization, and the U.S. hydrogen hubs are a key step to achieving U.S. decarbonization and climate goals,” Frank Wolak, president and CEO of the Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Energy Association, told pv magazine USA

Building out the hydrogen market has been an area of priority for the Biden Administration. The resource is expected to be a critical tool to decarbonize sectors that would otherwise be hard to decarbonize, such as industrial and chemical processes and heavy-duty transportation. 

While the U.S. currently produces about 10 million metric tonnes (MMT) of hydrogen per year, this largely comes from fossil fuels that aren’t paired with carbon capture technologies. The administration is aiming to produce that same amount of hydrogen entirely from clean energy sources by the end of the decade, and is looking to invest $7 billion to create regional hydrogen hubs across the country. Earlier this month, the administration also launched an inter-agency hydrogen task force, to bolster its “whole of government” approach to the sector. 

But these investments have raised concerns among the groups behind the letter. Hydrogen hubs will require a massive buildout of pipelines, and even the slightest rupture could cause explosions, they wrote in the letter. Constructing these pipelines could disrupt ecosystems, and contaminate soil and water, they added. And even in the case of green hydrogen, produced with renewable energy, the amount of water required – 5000 liters per megawatt-hour, according to the letter – would make it unsustainable, especially in areas affected by drought, they said. 

“Calling hydrogen clean energy is a scam to prop up the oil and gas industry,” Silas Grant, a campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity, said. 

Hydrogen advocates disagree. Investments in hydrogen hubs will be a central driver in scaling the hydrogen economy and helping communities across the country benefit from clean energy investments, good-paying jobs and improved energy security, Kendall Stephenson, manager of policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Energy Institute, told pv magazine USA.

“Not only would rejecting applications for these hubs completely disregard bipartisan Congressional direction, it would also deprive hard-to-abate sectors of adequate and affordable hydrogen supplies needed to decarbonize,” said Stephenson. 

“No serious stakeholder committed to net zero would take clean hydrogen off the table — it is just too important of a pathway,” she added. 

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