The Pacific Northwest will be home to one of seven Regional Clean Hydrogen Hubs (H2Hubs) announced Friday by the U.S. Department of Energy. The hubs are meant to kick-start the nascent hydrogen fuel sector and each will be eligible for roughly $1 billion of federal funding.
Amazon, First Mode and PACCAR are among the companies with projects that could benefit from the deal.
The DOE last year received hub concept papers from 79 applicants, which it whittled down to 33 finalists that submitted full proposals. Two made the cut from the Pacific Northwest.
The winning bid is called the Pacific Northwest Hydrogen Association (PNWH2 Association) and will include Washington, Oregon and Montana. The Washington Department of Commerce led a public-private partnership that applied for the program. Details of the pitch were kept secret, but participants included state officials from Washington and Oregon; tribal leaders; business, union and university representatives; and an environmental group.
“This monumental investment will create thousands of new clean energy jobs for folks across our state and make sure that Washington plays a leading role in growing the green hydrogen economy, which is such an important part of our efforts to tackle the climate crisis,” said Washington Sen. Patty Murray in a statement.
Hydrogen is a versatile fuel dubbed the “Swiss Army knife” of clean energy. It can replace fossil fuels in hard-to-decarbonize applications, powering fuel cells and engines. But there is limited hydrogen production in the U.S. and the current supply is dominated by fuel made through dirtier processes. And there is a lack of infrastructure for transporting the fuel, as well as a small pool of hydrogen customers.
Washington had two particularly important strengths for its hub pitch: It has one of the cleanest energy grids in the U.S. — which is essential for producing climate friendly hydrogen — and it’s home to companies and government agencies eager to use the fuel.
Following Friday’s announcement, PNWH2 shared news that it’s eligible for up to $1 billion of funding and multiple organizations have proposed projects for the hub. The association will negotiate final terms of the deal with DOE this fall and the funding will be awarded over nine years.
The organizations with planned projects include:
- Air Liquide Hydrogen Energy US
- ALA Renewable Energy
- Atlas Agro
- Centralia College
- Mitsubishi Power America
- Northwest Seaport Alliance
- NovoHydrogen Development
- Portland General Electric Company (PGE)
- Puget Sound Energy (PSE)
- PUD No. 1 of Douglas County
- Regis Solar
- First Mode (Synchronous)
- Twin Transit
- USA Fortescue Future Industries
- Williams Field Services Group
“The projects in this hub will support thousands of new jobs in Washington and the Northwest, while slashing emissions in sectors such as heavy-duty transportation, maritime, agriculture and industrial operations,” said Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.
Clean or “green” hydrogen fuel is made by splitting water to create hydrogen and oxygen, using a process called electrolysis. For the fuel to be climate friendly, the electrolysis needs to be powered with renewable energy, such as solar, wind or hydroelectric dams. Burning hydrogen creates water as its main emission.
Hydrogen can also be produced from sources like methane using pyrolysis, but that fuel typically is less clean. While environmental organizations back clean hydrogen, they warn against support for dirtier processes.
“The fossil fuel industry is working to continue our nation’s reliance on fossil fuels by any means necessary — and hydrogen offers yet another possible inroad for Big Oil and Gas to lock in polluting and non-economic uses of gas for decades to come,” said Sierra Club Executive Director Ben Jealous, in a statement following Friday’s announcement.
Other DOE hydrogen hubs will be in locations across the country, including California, Appalachia, Texas, the MidAtlantic, the Midwest and a hub including Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.
Washington leaders have been working for roughly the past five years to grow the hydrogen fuel sector in the state.
It built a coalition of interested parties through a group called CHARGE, or the Consortium for Hydrogen And Renewably Generated E-Fuels, which is associated with Washington State University. That organization became the anchor for a Department of Commerce-supported hydrogen innovation cluster.
Local companies already have been making strides in the sector. Seattle’s First Mode has hydrogen-fueled mega trucks working in mining while Bellevue’s PACCAR is building hydrogen fuel cell semis. Amazon and Microsoft both have partnerships with Power Plug, a company manufacturing hydrogen fuel cells in Spokane and elsewhere.
“Washington has come out on top on this highly competitive billion dollar federal award because we’ve been innovating and collaborating on clean energy technology for decades,” said Sen. Maria Cantwell.
The hub program was created by the Biden administration’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
The other Pacific Northwest organization that submitted a full proposal for hub funding is called the Obsidian Pacific Northwest Hydrogen Hub, an effort launched by Obsidian Renewables, a utility-scale solar company based near Portland, Ore.
Obsidian’s plan asked for $700 million in funding and aimed to produce 360 metric tons of hydrogen per day at multiple locations and create a pipeline for moving the fuel.