Recent surveys have revealed that supply-side interest in low-carbon hydrogen fuels is increasing in the US following the bipartisan infrastructure law and the Inflation Reduction Act.
The legislation set aside $8 billion for the creation of hydrogen “hubs” and partnerships in designated geographic locations. The creation of production tax credits for low-carbon hydrogen by the IRA has further accelerated interest in the fuel, leading to the announcement of several large partnerships dedicated to the production of low-carbon hydrogen in the US, especially in the Gulf Coast region.
However, many of the announced projects appear to be focused on exporting their product rather than using it within the US. Most partnerships are focused on the production of ammonia, which is made by combining hydrogen with nitrogen. There is already an existing market for ammonia, and it travels easily compared to hydrogen that requires dedicated pipelines. Companies have therefore opted to focus on ammonia production as a more economical option.
The petroleum refining, fertilizer, and chemical industries are among the sectors that have expressed the most interest in buying low-carbon hydrogen. The Inflation Reduction Act will help bring the cost of low-carbon hydrogen production in line with carbon-intensive options that are currently the norm in these industries. Policy developments overseas have also caused demand for hydrogen to soar, particularly in the European Union, which has set a target of producing 10 million tons of domestic hydrogen and importing another 10 million tons of hydrogen or ammonia to meet its energy needs.
Collaboration among companies is critical to capitalize on this demand, as few existing companies have the in-house expertise needed to produce hydrogen at scale. Fertilizer and natural gas companies, for example, have formed unlikely partnerships to develop new hydrogen projects. However, electric utilities in most regions of the US have been less eager to participate in these collaborations, as the use of hydrogen would prove uneconomical for them due to the need to convert energy to hydrogen by way of electrolysis and then back to energy via combustion.
Despite these challenges, some large utilities with significant renewable energy portfolios have expressed curiosity about hydrogen as a possible new source of revenue. With potentially lucrative opportunities overseas and in selling to chemical manufacturers, the interest in low-carbon hydrogen fuel production in the US is set to grow further in the coming years.