The Biden administration announced $750 million in funding for research, development and demonstration of “clean hydrogen” from renewable sources on Wednesday.
The funding is the first phase of the total $1.5 billion provided by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, with the goal of developing technologies to generate hydrogen with net-zero carbon emissions, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Although hydrogen does not itself create emissions when used as fuel, roughly 96% of hydrogen currently being produced is separated from fossil fuels, a process which results in carbon dioxide emissions, according to The Guardian.
Clean hydrogen is typically considered to fall into one of two categories, that which is recovered from natural gases but the emissions of which are captured and that which is separated from water through a process known as electrolysis, powered by renewable energy sources such as wind or solar, The Guardian reported. Additional funding for clean hydrogen could provide a revenue stream for a variety of clean power sources, including “renewables, advanced nuclear and other innovative power sources,” the DOE said.
While hydrogen might be an “attractive” replacement for fossil fuels, absent “emergency-like policy measures” the technology is likely to provide less than 1% of the world’s energy supply by 2035, according to a September 2022 study by the German Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. The technology is substantially limited by both “short-term scarcity and long-term uncertainty,” according to the study.
— Carbon Brief (@CarbonBrief) March 15, 2023
“Making clean hydrogen from abundant renewable energy provides America with yet another incredibly powerful fuel for many different applications, from low-emissions use in the construction and manufacturing industries to energy storage to powering our cars and trucks,” DOE Secretary Jennifer Granholm said in a statement. “Thanks to new funding from President Biden’s historic clean energy laws, DOE is accelerating our effort to make this exciting and versatile fuel market-ready within a decade—supercharging America’s drive towards an affordable and secure clean energy economy.”
When used as an energy source, hydrogen generated through the use of renewable power is between 20% to 40% less efficient than direct use of renewables and would require billions of dollars in infrastructure investments to be handled safely or replace natural gasses, according to the Sierra Club, a U.S.-based climate advocacy group. The group also advises against using the technology to power transportation, arguing instead that electric vehicles are “more efficient and cheaper,” although the group does believe that in “hard-to-decarbonize” industries, such as long-haul trucking, hydrogen fuel could be appropriate.
“The use of green hydrogen [for heating] is neither economical nor energy efficient,” a study by the German research group Norddeutsches Reallabor reads, according to a translation by Jan Rosenow of the Regulatory Assistance Project, a non-governmental organization that advocates for clean energy. “Therefore, hydrogen will probably be used mainly in exceptional situations,” the study concludes.
Tax breaks for hydrogen production offered by President Joe Biden’s signature climate bill, the Inflation Reduction Act, have been criticized by some climate activists, who are concerned that the law could support the use of fossil fuels to produce hydrogen, CNBC reported.
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