Clean Hydrogen: America’s Promising Next Fuel Source for a Resilient Energy Future

The past few years have shown that the need for cleaner energy sources is only growing, while balancing economic and infrastructure concerns remains vital to safeguard American energy dominance and security. The 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and 2022 Inflation Reduction Act are two recent examples of massive investments into American infrastructure and jobs, forging ahead to allow American energy supremacy over nations like Russia and China.

Hydrogen is one of the principal low-carbon sources of energy that both protects the existing American economy and reduces carbon dioxide emissions across America. With new investments into hydrogen such as the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) “Hydrogen Hubs” program, we are making strides in low-carbon energy that must continue to optimize the U.S.’s natural energy sources and fuel our economic growth.

As the DOE explains, hydrogen is a non-toxic, clean fuel that can be produced from natural gas, nuclear power, and renewable sources like wind and solar. When produced in ways that release few emissions, hydrogen has the potential to solidify energy resilience and further emissions-lessening climate goals. As the Texas Tribune reported, the two main low-carbon methods are through renewable sources that directly emit oxygen and water, and through natural gas sources that emit water and little to no carbon dioxide. In some places, using technologies such as carbon capture allows for existing natural gas infrastructure and jobs to be part of the clean energy revolution.

This win-win will energize the American economy, expand to cleaner energy sources, and strengthen our energy security away from countries like China. All types of hydrogen processing do not directly produce carbon emissions, making it extremely attractive as an alternative fuel. Further, the DOE estimates that the widespread adoption of hydrogen fuel cells could create 675,000 new jobs in the U.S. by 2035, with nearly half of new hydrogen fuel cell patents between 2002 and 2011 being awarded in the U.S. Since these fuel cells also produce electricity themselves, as per the U.S. Energy Information Administration, hydrogen can help strengthen electric grid resiliency in the face of increased load in the 21st century.

However, the main arguments against hydrogen hinge on indirect carbon emissions and other hydrogen leaks in transportation. Writing for Forbes in 2022, former Director of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Office of Transportation and Air Quality Margo Oge discussed the capture and storage challenge with hydrogen, where capture and storage technology is the necessary condition for it to truly be low-carbon. Further, she detailed how methane leaks during production and transportation could make hydrogen worse for the environment.

Thankfully, investments from the Biden administration have responded to these concerns and promise secure advancements to clean hydrogen. Following the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the DOE’s $7 billion investment for seven clean hydrogen hubs intends to eliminate 25 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions from end uses each year from coast to coast. The $1.2 billion Gulf Coast Hydrogen Hub around Houston, Texas, the energy capital of the U.S., will have planned hydrogen production using natural gas and carbon capture. The DOE also separately announced in November 2023 $444 million for safe carbon capture and storage among 16 projects nationwide.

Further, the Treasury Department in December 2023 outlined guidance for the 45V Clean Hydrogen Production Tax Credit as part of the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act. If applied equally to all qualified sectors, this tax provision will provide up to $3 per kilogram of hydrogen to projects with low-level greenhouse gas emissions, making hydrogen a cheaper, clean alternative for consumers. Together with hydrogen hubs, this tax credit will help create tens of thousands of good-paying jobs in construction, engineering, and manufacturing while incentivizing emissions reductions.

All forms of hydrogen then are integral to the clean energy revolution, as an alternative to coal that doesn’t directly produce carbon emissions. While concerns exist around hydrogen’s indirect carbon emissions and other leaks, the Biden administration’s recent investments have the potential to lead to hydrogen’s success.

Yet, most importantly, hydrogen must be implemented using existing natural gas infrastructure to protect hydrogen’s electricity consumption and ensure grid resiliency. Along with new cleaner hydrogen using renewable sources and carbon capture technologies, hydrogen from natural gas sources will become more sustainable and cheaper, with help from Biden’s tax credits. What is left is for the administration to clear the regulatory way for these projects to go underway and deliver results across the country that are necessary for a cleaner, brighter future for our children.

Baron Hill served as the representative for Indiana’s 9th congressional district from 1999–2005 and 2007–2011, and was a senior member on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.