Green hydrogen is a thing that is happening, regardless of lingering skepticism. In the latest development, New York State has assembled three of its neighbors in the US northeast and a phalanx of industry stakeholders to propose a regional “hydrogen ecosystem.” Those who continue to insist that this is not a good idea will have a big fight on their hands.
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4 Northeast States, 4 Renewable Energy Stories
The new green hydrogen proposal links New York with Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Jersey.
New Jersey’s renewable energy story is an especially interesting one. The state began to make significant progress at the beginning of the 21st century, until a fossil-friendly governor decided to slow-walk the state’s wind industry. He also summarily pulled it out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, disabled a regional EV charging initiative, and kicked a major interstate rail transit project to the curb (the New York — New Jersey ARC tunnel project).
Well, that was then. New Jersey has since gotten back on the renewable energy track, and as recently as last year it appeared to be on track to develop a dueling clean H2 project to compete with New York. The new regional proposal should help smooth a pathway for accelerating decarbonization together.
New York State had a somewhat smoother energy transition, and now it hosts a national wind power R&D consortium aimed at accelerating innovation in the wind industry.
Massachusetts is of interest because the state was supposed to be the site of Cape Wind, the nation’s first utility-scale offshore wind farm, only to see the title fall to tiny Rhode Island after years of legal entanglement. Now Massachusetts has become the proving ground for a new, streamlined federal approval process that is shuttling hundreds of wind turbines into the ocean all up and down the Atlantic Coast.
Then there’s Connecticut, which has been trying to make fuel cells happen for years. The new regional partnership could finally turn the dream into reality.
Another Regional Green Hydrogen Hub
The announcement of the new consortium aims at positioning all 4 states to ladle up a share of a forthcoming $8 billion Energy Department funding pot for hydrogen hubs.
“By forming this partnership, New York presents a coordinated, multi-state approach to a hydrogen hub that connects the entire value chain of hydrogen producers, users, technology and equipment manufacturers, and the research and development community including national labs and universities,” New York State Governor Kathy Hochul’s office explains.
“The coalition will seek to integrate offshore wind and solar PV into hydrogen production and deploy hydrogen for use in transportation, including for medium and heavy- duty vehicles, heavy industry, power generation and maritime applications or other appropriate uses consistent with decarbonization efforts,” they continue.
Green hydrogen hubs have been taking form in various other parts of the US, but the so-named “Regional Clean Energy Hydrogen Hub” could top them all due to its access to offshore wind energy, its technology industry, its leading markets along the I-95 corridor, and its access to road, rail, and pipeline networks to other parts of the US.
Considering Europe’s frantic scramble to wean itself from Russian gas, seaports among the four states are another key asset as green hydrogen begins to replace liquid natural gas in the export market.
More Green Hydrogen For Everything — Except Cars
If you caught that thing about “medium- and heavy-duty vehicles,” that reflects the consensus view that fuel cell passenger cars and other light-duty vehicles are not going to cut it, green hydrogen or not.
China just announced a sustainable H2 plan that could embrace smaller fuel cell vehicles along with many other uses for green hydrogen, but here in the US it appears that fuel cell car fans among the four partner states in the Regional Clean Energy Hydrogen Hub will have to wait for their moment.
Other than that, the four partners are already looking to expand the initial group of 40 industry and academic partners that have signed on to the project.
“New York and its partner states continue to seek additional public and private partners in the region and focus on coordinating the regional fuel cell innovation ecosystem,” Hochul’s office emphasizes.
The list of partners includes the familiar name of Plug Power, an early fuel cell enthusiast that has shifted focus from fuel cell forklifts to sustainable H2 production in recent years.
Other familiar names on key industry partner list include BAE Systems, Bloom Energy Corporation, Cummins, FuelCell Energy, and Next Hydrogen.
The utility side is represented by National Grid, Consolidated Edison, and the Long Island Power Authority, among others, and academic partners include Columbia, Cornell, and New York universities.
The Rise Of The Fuel Cell
Speaking of access to overseas markets, another partner in the proposed hub is the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which is in a position to facilitate green hydrogen exports and serve as a leading customer, too.
Cleaning up seaport air pollution has been a particular focus of the US EPA under its Ports Initiative, and seaports are ripe with non-car uses for zero emission fuel cells, though other types of vehicles may also present a decarbonization avenue. For example, the Port Authority has been partnering with Toyota on fuel cell fleet vehicles since 2010. The agency also began partnering with Bloom Energy on a stationary fuel cell project at its One World Trace Center campus in 2020, so more of that could also be in the works.
Over in Connecticut, FuelCell Energy is happy to note that the state legislature approved a fuel cell requirement for new electricity generation projects in the state.
In Massachusetts, last year UMass Lowell produced an industry-funded study that ran through the challenges and opportunities involved in leveraging H2 to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. The study came down firmly on the side of opportunities in energy storage among other industrial applications, which is no surprise considering the green hydrogen activity already brewing in these areas.
Somewhat surprisingly, the study also spots an opportunity for deploying fuel cell vehicles to help decarbonize urban areas. The idea would be to help fill electrification gaps where charging stations for battery electric vehicles are impractical. That remains to be seen, though the overall point is that a one-size-fits-all technology model may not be the best fit for rapid global decarbonization.
Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.
Photo: Offshore wind via US Department of Energy (credit: Dennis Schroeder / NREL 40481).
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