Hydrogen has been hailed as a much cleaner alternative to fossil fuels when it comes to the powering industry, but it depends on the type of hydrogen. As the Sierra Club noted in a report earlier this year, industrial hydrogen comes in three colors: gray, blue, and green.
Gray hydrogen is produced through an energy-intensive steam methane reforming (SMR) process high in emissions. Blue hydrogen production uses carbon capture and sequestration to remove carbon dioxide emitted during hydrogen production.
The cleanest method, green hydrogen, is produced by splitting water into its constituent hydrogen and oxygen components through electrolysis, which is powered by renewable energy. This is the preferred method when it comes to protecting the environment. The Sierra Club referred to green hydrogen as “a promising solution” for industrial uses that cannot otherwise rely on cleaner methods.
Several major initiatives have recently been launched to pursue that promising solution, occurring within a few weeks.
On May 19, a consortium led by H2GO Power secured 4.3 million British pounds (about $5.2 million) from the UK government to roll out a smart hydrogen storage system in the Orkney Islands, an archipelago off the northeastern coast of Scotland with a large concentration of wind turbines. As Forbes reported, the system could displace up to 7,500 gallons of diesel and 90 tonnes of CO2 annually on the islands.
Less than three weeks later, on June 8, the U.S. Department of Energy finalized a $504.4 million loan guarantee to help finance the world’s largest hydrogen storage facility – the Advanced Clean Energy Storage project in Delta, Utah. The facility will store green hydrogen and then burn it as fuel for the Intermountain Power Agency’s Renewed Project, a gas turbine/cycle power plant that aims to be fueled by 100% clean hydrogen by 2045.
That same day, Plug Power, a Latham, New York-based developer of hydrogen fuel cell systems, announced plans to build its first green hydrogen project in Europe at the Port of Antwerp-Bruges in Belgium. Plug Power said it will invest about $315 million in the facility, which should come online in 2025. The 100-megawatt plant is expected to have the capacity to churn out 12,500 tons a year of green hydrogen, powered by a nearby wind farm and other renewable-energy agreements.
The announcements come amid a period of transition for the green hydrogen market. Research from PricewaterhouseCoopers found that green hydrogen economics is challenging because renewable energy sources’ underlying costs vary widely. PwC expects demand will grow at a moderate but steady pace through 2030 and then begin to accelerate beginning in 2035.
Recent initiatives aim to demonstrate the commercial potential of green hydrogen. Two of H2GO’s goals with its Orkney Islands project are to show the effectiveness of using green hydrogen for utility-scale storage and to showcase commercial uses such as providing heat and power to factories.
H2GO Power and its other consortium partners – including the European Marine Energy Centre, Autodesk, and the Manufacturing Technology Centre – also seek to determine if green hydrogen is suitable for long-duration energy storage for power and grid stability applications.
According to H2GO Power CEO Dr. Enass Abo-Hamed, “This deployment showcases how utilizing low-pressure, green hydrogen generated by wind and tidal energy can deliver higher efficiency and lower costs at scale while allowing island residents to depend more on cleaner grid power than their diesel generators.”
Plug Power has been on a similar mission to expand the commercial uses of green hydrogen. In April, the company signed a green-hydrogen supply agreement with Walmart to provide fuel to power the retailer’s forklifts. Plug Power also formed a joint venture with French car maker Renault to use hydrogen from the planned plant in Belgium to power the automaker’s Hyvia delivery vans.
Meanwhile, the Advanced Clean Energy Storage project, partly financed by the DOE, is part of a broader effort by the agency to put more money into the hydrogen industry. The DOE recently released a notice of intent to fund a separate $8 billion program to develop regional hydrogen hubs as part of the Biden administration’s goal to decarbonize the electric grid by 2035. The program’s funding was made possible by last year’s bipartisan infrastructure law.
“The goal of our effort is to not just provide stimulus in the short term but to create an institution that entrepreneurs and energy leaders can rely upon to help commercialize their technologies and build robust industries,” Jigar Shah, head of the DOE’s Loan Programs Office, told reporters at a briefing following the Advanced Clean Energy Storage announcement.