In a fierce national competition to secure a slice of $7 billion in grant funding to advance “green” hydrogen projects, the Pacific Northwest, represented by Oregon and Washington, emerged as one of the seven winners, each receiving roughly $1 billion in Regional Clean Hydrogen Hubs grant funding.
The joint proposal from Oregon and Washington was the result of collaboration between state leaders, potential hydrogen fuel producers, industrial consumers, trade unions, utility companies, and several tribes from Southwest Washington. While the details of the specific projects to be funded in the Pacific Northwest remain largely undisclosed, the U.S. Department of Energy expects the initiative to generate over 10,000 direct jobs, including 8,050 in construction and 350 permanent positions.
Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm emphasized the historic nature of this investment, laying the foundation for a new American-led industry that contributes to the global clean energy transition while creating high-quality jobs and fostering healthier communities across the nation. President Joe Biden and Secretary Granholm plan to make a formal announcement regarding the grants in Philadelphia.
But what exactly is “green hydrogen,” and why is it considered a game-changer in the quest for cleaner energy? Green hydrogen begins with water, which consists of hydrogen and oxygen. By employing an electrolyzer, an electric current is passed through the water, causing a reaction that separates hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen, in this process, is captured and stored. However, it’s important to note that this production process requires a substantial amount of electricity, which should ideally come from renewable sources like wind or solar power. When hydrogen production relies on such renewable electricity, it becomes “green” and carbon-neutral, emitting no carbon dioxide or greenhouse gases, only water.
Over the past year, West Coast governors and Biden administration officials have been advocating for low-emissions hydrogen as a solution to meet climate goals, particularly in sectors such as shipping and steel manufacturing, where transitioning to clean electric power has been challenging. The Department of Energy officials highlighted one favorable aspect of the Pacific Northwest proposal: demonstrating practical applications for clean hydrogen, such as producing fossil fuel-free fertilizer.
The Pacific Northwest’s plan for a hydrogen hub involves producing “green” hydrogen by electrolysis, a highly energy-intensive process that must exclusively use renewable electricity to qualify as green. The region’s proposal has a collaboration with renewable electricity project developers to ensure a stable and growing supply of clean energy to meet hydrogen production needs.
However, there are concerns about where this additional electricity will come from, especially in areas that are already grappling with electricity shortages. Lewis County Commissioner Lindsey Pollock raised the issue of electricity availability, particularly in relation to a large hydrogen factory proposed near the soon-to-be-closed Centralia coal power plant. The potential electricity shortfall when the coal plant goes offline is a real concern, potentially leading to rising prices due to scarcity.
The winning Pacific Northwest bid envisions eight production and consumption “nodes” scattered across Washington, Oregon, and western Montana. Specific information about these locations and further project details will become available after the official grant contract is finalized with the federal government. The Pacific Northwest Hydrogen Association released a list of major industry partners selected to participate in the hub, including Fortescue Future Industries, Amazon.com, PACCAR, and the Northwest Seaport Alliance, a consortium of the ports of Seattle and Tacoma.
The grant represents a significant step forward for the Pacific Northwest’s transition to cleaner energy sources and is poised to become a critical catalyst for the region’s hydrogen economy. While challenges and questions remain, the opportunity to create green hydrogen solutions that contribute to the fight against climate change is an exciting prospect for the region.