Last week, Clean Air Task Force (CATF) provided testimony at a Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing on clean hydrogen – the first hearing the Committee has held on that topic since 2006. CATF’s Jonathan Lewis, Senior Counsel and Director of Transportation Decarbonization, testified on the importance of hydrogen to global decarbonization efforts on behalf of Mike Fowler, Director of Advanced Energy Technology Research.
CATF’s remarks were centered on the need for low-carbon hydrogen as part of the solution set for climate change. The testimony from CATF covered how hydrogen—a versatile and carbon-free energy carrier—can help meet the challenge of fully decarbonizing the U.S. economy by midcentury; which sectors are likely to require hydrogen to decarbonize; and what types of research, development, demonstration, and deployment programs for hydrogen will help the United States meet its ambitious climate goals.
CATF outlined what is needed to ensure that new hydrogen production is clean, particularly that hydrogen produced with natural gas must have extremely low methane leak rates in the natural gas supply chain and very high rates of carbon capture, and hydrogen produced with an electrolyzer must use electricity that is both clean and additional to existing and planned zero-carbon electricity generation. In response to a question from Senator Joe Manchin, Mr. Lewis also addressed the attributes that CATF believes are essential for creating good hubs through the Department of Energy’s Regional Clean Hydrogen Hub program (established in the 2021 bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act).
The hearing prompted a wide-ranging and productive conversation between the members of the Committee and a panel of experts from the public and private sectors. Below are highlights of the key points that CATF shared with the Senators on clean hydrogen:
- The climate challenge is vast and urgent and will require a monumental shift in our energy system. Achieving net-zero emissions across the energy system within several decades will require massive transitions in energy production and in a variety of end-use sectors.
- 80% of end-use energy today is provided by fuel molecules, and we will likely always have demand for fuels. Electrification of some of those fuel end-uses (combined with a shift to zero-carbon electricity sources) is an essential decarbonization strategy. However, not all end-uses of fuel can be electrified, so we will also need zero-carbon fuels like hydrogen to reach full decarbonization. Hydrogen is a versatile, carbon-free energy carrier that can substitute for some conventional fuels, and the United States and other countries already have considerable industrial experience making and using hydrogen.
- Hydrogen provides a climate opportunity. In the United States, hydrogen provides an enormous opportunity for decarbonization in certain sectors and could contribute to reducing CO2 emissions by a billion metric tons per year or more. Hydrogen could be essential in decarbonizing heavy transportation (such as heavy-duty trucking, marine shipping, and aviation) and heavy industry (for example in combustion of fuels for process heating and in ironmaking). Hydrogen might also have a key role to play in the power sector as a load balancer to help enable an electricity grid powered in large part by wind- and solar-based generation, because hydrogen can be produced from intermittent renewable energy sources when supply exceeds energy demand and stored to be used when demand exceeds zero-carbon energy supply.
- Federal funding for research, development, demonstration, and deployment will be invaluable in building out the clean hydrogen economy. The road to decarbonization with hydrogen is not entirely clear today. Demand for clean hydrogen is projected to grow due to net-zero goals, and demand in the U.S. could be 10 quadrillion Btu or more by midcentury from the sectors mentioned above. But federal R&D and demonstration programs – like the hydrogen hub program – will need to play a key role in building scale, industry learning, and seeding growth. Deployment support for hydrogen with low greenhouse gas intensity – likely in the form of production tax credits or other incentives – will also be needed.
To play a part in meeting decarbonization goals, hydrogen production will have to be clean. If it is produced using best practices for minimizing greenhouse gas intensity (which are evolving and improving over time), hydrogen can serve as a low- or zero-carbon fuel source to aid in our clean energy transition. Policies that support clean hydrogen, with a focus on the climate, environmental, and community impacts of hydrogen’s production and use, will also play an essential role in building out the low-carbon hydrogen economy that is needed to decarbonize “hard-to-electrify” sectors. CATF looks forward to continued engagement with the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and other stakeholders on clean hydrogen.