The case for a hydrogen hub in Ohio
March 7, 2022
A coalition of energy producers, industrial consumers, research institutions, elected officials and community leaders is assembling in support of pursuing federal funding to help build out a hydrogen-powered economy in Ohio.
Ohio Clean Hydrogen Hub Alliance member Kirt Conrad argues that Ohio is uniquely positioned to become a leader in an emerging clean hydrogen economy resulting from a U.S. Department of Energy program dedicating up to $2 billion for each of four hydrogen hubs nationwide.
Conrad, who also is CEO of the Stark-Area Regional Transit Authority (SARTA) believes that funding could jump-start the infrastructure needed to make low-carbon hydrogen an accessible energy source in the region.
“This is where the world is going, and I fundamentally believe that this is the way we also have to go,” he said. “Hydrogen is going to be an industry as big as the light bulb, and I don’t want to see Ohio lose out.”
The regional hubs are part of the Biden administration’s plans to invest a total of $8 billion in the DOE’s “hydrogen earth shot,” which has an end goal of driving the cost of clean hydrogen to $1 per kilogram in a decade.
The hydrogen hub alliance was created in partnership with the Midwest Hydrogen Center of Excellence and has more than 70 partners representing both hydrogen energy producers and end users.
It will act as a public-facing group in anticipation of the DOE’s request for proposals — referred to as a “funding opportunity announcement,” or FOA — expected sometime before May 15.
The competition for the funding promises to be fierce, Conrad said.
“It is going to take a multitude of partners to make this happen and respond to the FOA in a way that influences this process to look favorably upon Ohio,” he said.
Conrad’s push for the hydrogen hub is a natural offshoot of his work with SARTA, which under his leadership, and with 21 vehicles, operates one of the nation’s largest fleets of hydrogen fuel cell-powered buses.
But it is the state’s manufacturing and transportation sectors, coupled with its natural gas resources, that makes the strongest argument for a hydrogen-based economy in Ohio, advocates say.
“Ohio has it all. It is uniquely positioned to secure the hydrogen hub opportunity,” said Jim Eck, vice president of Dominion Energy Ohio, which along with SARTA, the Midwest Hydrogen Center of Excellence and Cleveland State University formed the hydrogen hub alliance in January.
About 95% of the hydrogen produced in the country is created using natural gas. With 30 to 50 years of potential stores of natural gas and existing infrastructure, Dominion plans initially to deliver a mixture of hydrogen gas and natural gas to consumers as early as 2030.
Using natural gas as a feeder in a process referred to as “blue hydrogen” is one of the four methods of producing hydrogen and is earmarked as the technology for one of the four hubs. The other three are “gray hydrogen,” which produces hydrogen also using natural gas; “pink hydrogen,” which produces electricity from nuclear power; and “green hydrogen,” which uses renewable energy, including solar and wind.
Dominion has set ambitious carbon reduction goals. It includes clean hydrogen, along with increased solar capacity, as one of the ways the company plans to achieve net-zero carbon dioxide and methane emissions from power generation and gas infrastructure operations by 2050.
“In order to get all the way to net-zero carbon emissions, innovation will have to be at the forefront,” Eck said. “We need to embrace change and take an ‘all-the-above’ energy solution.”
Eck said the company already has begun testing natural gas hydrogen mix delivery for residential consumers at Dominion’s technical training center in Boston Heights. Dubbed “Hydrogen Heights” by Eck, the facility has a model home used to test out how the mixture interacts with household appliance.
“We have to do our due diligence,” he said.
The plan is to begin with a 5% hydrogen mix, with the natural gas eventually bringing that mix up to a possible 20% blend — a process common in other countries. After initial tests, Eck said the facility will continue to be used to educate anyone interested in hydrogen as a versatile energy source.
“That is one of the reasons we, and so many others, are excited about it, because it has the potential to power every single sector of our economy,” Eck said.
Federal funding for a hub means an infusion of public and private investment that is needed to connect regional markets to hydrogen generation.
“Clean hydrogen is now an integral component of any long-term energy strategy, and this will help take the technologies that we have currently available and overcome the obstacles that are out there to get this technology out and into the world,” said Andy Thomas, director of the Midwest Hydrogen Center of Excellence, as well as the director of energy policy at Cleveland State.
“Ten years ago, the two big issues were making hydrogen cheaply and making hydrogen fuel cells durable. Those problems have been solved, for the most part,” Thomas said. “What hasn’t been solved is how to make it carbon-free and how to get it in a place where people could access it readily.”
Cuyahoga County, another partner in the hydrogen hub alliance, is preparing to add hydrogen as an energy source feeding into the new county utility developed to power a series of proposed microgrids.
“Hydrogen could help power the microgrid, and the companies attached to it would benefit from the clean energy,” said Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish.
The microgrid, a highly efficient and redundant power source that operates with minimal downtime, plays a role in the county reaching its 2050 sustainability goals.
Budish said that the county’s industrial and manufacturing facilities, including the steel sector, would benefit from another energy source for high-energy consumption processes.
“It fits everything we are trying to do here,” Budish said. “It is all about the future of Cuyahoga County in attracting jobs and business and making this a thriving, safe and health community, and to suggest this is not what we are supposed to be doing is shortsighted.”