(Thomas Urbain, AFP agency).- Renewable and storable energy source, the hydrogen it attracts massive projects and investment in the United States, a sector relaunched by the Biden administration after years of slow growth.
“The United States came out of nowhere and is now in the lead,” Mark Hutchinson, CEO of Fortescue Future Industries, said of the United States’ rise in renewables in general and hydrogen in particular, at the CERAWeek conference held place in Houston, Texas, March 6-10.
US hydrogen production already amounts to about ten million tons per year, about 10% of world volumes. But that production consists mainly of so-called “grey” hydrogen, which is produced from natural gas without capturing carbon dioxide emissions and therefore polluting.
Thanks to a series of initiatives, notably the infrastructure legislative package voted in 2021 and the energy transition law IRA (Inflation Reduction Act), passed last year, President Joe Biden has committed to increasing the capacity of production from low or zero carbon emission sources, which are known as “blue” and “green” hydrogen.
Blue hydrogen is produced from natural gas in which carbon dioxide from the manufacturing process is captured. Green hydrogen is produced through renewable sources.
The new sources of funding from the United States are huge, including $8 billion dedicated to building a network of “clean” hydrogen centers across the country.
The IRA provides tax credits of $3 per kilogram of green hydrogen, currently estimated to cost between $4 and $5 to produce.
“The IRA has fundamentally changed the economic model of hydrogen from renewable energy,” said Catherine Robinson, executive director of gas, power and energy futures at S&P Global Commodity Insights. “It allows it to compete with other forms of hydrogen.”
The blue and green types should first target “hard-to-decarbonize sectors,” which currently use the bulk of America’s gray hydrogen production, said Sunita Satyapal of the US Department of Energy.
This includes oil refining, steel milling, and the production of ammonia, which is used in fertilizers.
– “Swiss knife” –
Beyond heavy industry, others look to this energy source for its storage and transport capacity. But to what extent this will happen is a matter of debate.
Energy experts are optimistic about the use of hydrogen in long-distance commercial transportation, where a tank of hydrogen could fill up in seconds. But a vehicle like the Tesla Semi truck needs half an hour to recharge its much heavier engine.
“Within 10 to 15 years, hydrogen will become the new fuel … It will replace natural gas for many applications and potentially replace diesel fuel for many modes of transportation,” said Paul Matter, co-founder of Power to Hydrogen. , an American company focused on the generation and storage of hydrogen.
There are also developments for the transport of goods by rail, aircraft and cargo ships.
But skeptics see limits to diversifying away from hydrogen, pointing to electrification as a more efficient option for cars because of the advantages of smaller batteries and the ease of setting up charging infrastructure.
The scientific journal Nature has warned about the “overestimation of hydrogen”.
“Hydrogen must be used prudently, to address emissions that cannot be removed in any other way,” Nature said in a November 2022 editorial, which also criticized talk of using hydrogen to heat homes.
“It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution,” said Andy Marsh, chief executive of Latham, New York-based Plug Power, which bills itself as the world’s largest supplier and user of liquid hydrogen, a concentrated form of the gas.
However, he sees hydrogen as “the Swiss army knife of this transition,” offering “many, many mobility applications, where hydrogen is really the only solution.”
– Megaprojects underway –
Several new projects around US hydrogen have already been announced, but many more are anticipated once the IRA rulemaking is finalized, which is expected in the second half of 2023.
Several large factories would see the light in the states of New York and California.
“Sector maturity may take a five to 10-year horizon,” predicted Alan Hayes, director of energy transition pricing at S&P Global Commodity Insights.
US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm promised at CERAWeek to address issues with permit delays for new hydrogen facilities.
In Texas, two megaprojects are underway, one in the far south of the state, called Hydrogen City, the other in the far north, for about $4 billion.
Long a stronghold of oil and natural gas production, Texas is now vying to take the lead in America’s renewable energy.
“If you talk to someone from Texas they love to say ‘We build stuff,'” Hayes said.