Western Green Hydrogen Makeover Clouds Fossil Energy Revival

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President* Trump has often spoken of his affection for fossil energy in general and coal workers in particular, but apparently the love has been lost on energy stakeholders. The big bucks are shifting over to renewables, and a case in point is Mitsubishi. The diversified global energy giant is the lead supporter of a new western US green hydrogen alliance, and it could pull the rug right out from under natural gas.

green hydrogen USA renewable energy
Tsunami of green hydrogen swallows up Trump oil and gas legacy — wait, whatever happened to all your coal jobs? Image via US DOE.

From Old Hydrogen To Green Hydrogen

For those of you new to the topic, natural gas is currently the source for about 95% of the hydrogen produced in the US. That’s a relief for natural gas fans who are afraid of being squeezed out of the power generation sector by low-cost wind and solar power. As long as there are markets for hydrogen to exploit, gas stakeholders have a lifeline.

There certainly is a lot to exploit. Hydrogen is widely used in agriculture, food processing, and various industries — from aerospace to toiletries and other consumer products.

That’s all in addition to the hydrogen fuel cell market, which is set for growth as some automakers and engineering firms embrace fuel cell electric vehicles (well, at least in the heavy-duty truck department). The fuel cell trend is also taking hold in the maritime and aircraft industries, as well as stationary power systems.

All of this means that hydrogen is a big, fat target for global decarbonization. A movement is already afoot to find alternative sources for hydrogen, and much of the attention is  focused on  electrolysis, which involves “splitting” hydrogen from water using electricity from renewable sources.

There are other pathways to green hydrogen, such as biogas and photoelectrochemical technology, but for now electrolysis appears to have a head start to the market.

Mitsubishi Seeks (Green) Energy Domination For US

By way of context for Mitsubishi’s involvement in the US green hydrogen field, it’s helpful to know that the US Department of Energy has been promoting sustainable hydrogen all throughout the Trump administration. In a curious coincidence of timing, the Energy Department made some of its biggest moves in the green direction just months, weeks, and days before Election Day 2020, including a new collaboration with the Netherlands, a new fuel cell truck initiative, and the release of a national hydrogen plan.

In the meantime, various state-based collaborations have been springing up to promote regional hydrogen economies.

Back in the olden days, all of this hydrogen activity would have melted the hearts of natural gas stakeholders. However, it looks like the door is already slamming shut, and Mitsubishi is a case in point.

Last week saw the launch of something called the Western Green Hydrogen Initiative, with Mitsubishi as its lead supporter along with the National Association of State Energy Officials, the Western Interstate Energy Board, and the Green Hydrogen Coalition.

With the inclusion of NASEO, that covers quite a bit more ground than the western US. NASEO represents 56 US states and territories with its peer learning model and lobbying services.

The Green Hydrogen Coalition also plays to a national audience. The organization is funded through charitable giving, with the top givers being Mitsubishi Power, 8Minute Solar Energy, Intersect Power, the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power, and the diversified air and gas products company Magnum Development

The other listed supporters include some familiar clean tech names on the CleanTechnica radar, such as Bloom Energy, Photosol US, Ørsted, and ZeroAvia. Also on the roster are a mixed bag of diversified and cleantech companies: Dominion Energy, SoCalGas, the top dollar cleantech investor organization True North Venture Partners, BrightNight, Hatch, the community choice energy firm MCE, and the fuel cell firm Nexceris.

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Wait, What About That Other Western Hydrogen Group?

Mitsubishi’s eagerness to claim the green hydrogen mantle is especially interesting because just last month, some other major new hydrogen collaboration launched in the US. The collaboration between industry stakeholders and policy makers in 13 western states is called the Western States Hydrogen Alliance, and describes itself as “an alliance of technology providers, end-users, thought leaders, engineers, environmentalists and others with an interest in seeing a zero-emission world where diesel pollution comes to an end in the near term.”

That emphasis on ending diesel pollution leaves some wiggle room for gas-sourced hydrogen, but most of the founding members — Ballard Power Systems, Capacity Trucks, El Dorado National, Golden Gate Zero Emission Marine, Hyundai, Plug Power, and The Protium Company — are already dipping into green hydrogen to one degree or another.

Mitsubishi is conspicuously absent from the WSHA founders’ list. That may seem odd because the company chose the western state of Utah to kickstart its new hybrid gas-hydrogen turbine design, which enables power plants to shift from a natural gas and green hydrogen mix to 100% green hydrogen. However, it seems Mitsubishi had something else up its sleeve.

Don’t Let The Door Hit You On The Way Out…

Speaking of President Trump, in a normal world, the Commander-in-Chief could take credit for moving the US cleantech ball forward during his first and only term in office. After all, green hydrogen is just one piece of an ever-expanding pie that includes impressive progress on energy efficiency and energy storage, as well as renewable energy and bioplastics, among other areas.

Last week’s G20 summit provided just such an opportunity, but as is so often the case with all things Trump, his attention was elsewhere.

In a virtual appearance at G20, Trump chose to dwell on the US oil and gas industry, which has been flailing as of late (no thanks to Trump himself, but that’s a whole ‘nother kettle of fish).

“The United States is now the number one producer of oil and natural gas in the world,” he said, as reported by CNN. Fair enough. The US could continue to be the number one producer of oil and natural gas forever, but the overall numbers will continue to fall as the global economy decarbonizes, and those US oil and gas jobs will be fewer and farther between.

For a glimpse into the future of oil and gas employment in the US, take a quick look over at all those coal jobs Trump promised to save. He cut coal out of his 2019 State of the Union address and hasn’t brought up the subject in any important context since then. That’s just as well, because he will leave office on January 20 having seen a 24% drop in coal jobs since the beginning of his tenure. In just the past two years, coal dropped from 26.9% of US electricity to 17.7% of it.

Rumor has it that Trump is already planning a run for president again, in 2024. If you have any thoughts on whose jobs he’ll promise to save the next time around, drop us a note in the comment thread.

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*Developing story.

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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