U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) is at the forefront of a groundbreaking initiative to harness the power of plasma for clean hydrogen production, with the aim of reducing hydrogen costs by a staggering 80%.
PPPL has been selected to lead a DOE Energy Earthshot Research Center (EERC) as part of the Hydrogen Shot™, a bold endeavor to accelerate the adoption of hydrogen as a clean and affordable energy source. This initiative aligns with the Energy Earthshots Initiative, which seeks to advance national climate and economic competitiveness goals through collaborative research and innovation.
With $5 million in funding over four years from the DOE’s Office of Science, PPPL will delve into the realm of plasma –– the electrically charged fourth state of matter that constitutes 99% of the visible universe. The primary objective is to harness plasma’s potential for hydrogen production, a carbon-free fuel with myriad applications, particularly in the chemicals and materials manufacturing sectors.
Yiguang Ju, a PPPL managing principal research physicist and the Robert Porter Patterson Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Princeton University, will spearhead the EERC’s efforts. Ju’s expertise in plasma and mechanical engineering positions him as a key driver of this groundbreaking research.
Described by PPPL researchers as “electromanufacturing,” this burgeoning field seeks to replace fossil fuels with clean electricity in various industrial processes. By leveraging the power of plasma, PPPL aims to revolutionize clean energy production and reduce carbon emissions significantly. This exciting avenue of research falls under the Applied Materials and Sustainability Sciences (AMSS) directorate, led by Emily A. Carter, a prominent figure in energy and environmental studies.
“The Energy Earthshot idea is a variation of the moonshot effort of the 1960s in that the country is mobilizing to accomplish the grand goal of producing massive quantities of clean energy,” says Carter. PPPL, renowned for its expertise in fusion research, is now applying its knowledge to enhance industrial processes involving plasma, particularly in hydrogen production.
The EERC, named the Center for the Science of Plasma-Enhanced Hydrogen Production (PEHPr), will conduct experiments at both PPPL and Princeton University. The research will explore the utilization of catalysts and plasma, generated with renewable electricity, to produce hydrogen more efficiently and cost-effectively while capturing, converting, and storing carbon.
This plasma-based technique could revolutionize the way we produce clean hydrogen, potentially replacing current methods reliant on steam reforming of natural gas, a process notorious for emitting large amounts of carbon dioxide. Ju explains, “You can get higher temperatures from the hot electrons in a plasma than from today’s technique of burning methane. That allows us to produce hydrogen more efficiently and for a lower cost without producing carbon emissions.”
In addition to groundbreaking research, the center plans to educate the public about its findings and encourage young talent to join the field. High school and college students will be invited to apply for hydrogen-related summer internships to foster the next generation of green energy leaders. Workshops and summer schools will also be organized to disseminate research findings to industry and the public.
If the DOE’s Hydrogen Shot™ goals are achieved, we can anticipate a substantial increase in clean hydrogen utilization. Estimates suggest a 16% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2050, alongside potential revenues of $140 billion and the creation of 700,000 jobs by 2030. Furthermore, achieving the Hydrogen Shot™’s 80% cost reduction goal could open up new markets for hydrogen in steel manufacturing, clean ammonia production, energy storage, and heavy-duty trucks.
In addition to the Hydrogen Shot™, PPPL will collaborate with Oak Ridge National Laboratory on another EERC, as part of the larger Industrial Heat Shot™. This initiative aims to utilize clean electricity instead of fossil fuels to provide the heat required for various industrial processes.