Clean Hydrogen Clusters Are a Key to Industrial Decarbonization

Clusters of hydrogen, industrial, and power facilities in the US could serve as launch points for deploying clean hydrogen, a versatile decarbonization solution for numerous sectors. Hydrogen can be used as a heat source in heavy industry applications, power vehicles like long-haul trucks, and heat buildings—all without emitting any carbon when burned.

Key takeaways:

  • Hydrogen is a key decarbonization strategy due to its ability to be flexibly produced, provide seasonal energy storage, and meet the high heat requirements of many industrial processes.
  • Hydrogen can be used as a low- or zero-carbon alternative to fossil fuels at industrial facilities.
  • Natural clusters of hydrogen production and fossil fuel demand could jumpstart the transition to hydrogen.
  • Policy is needed to reduce the cost of transitioning to clean hydrogen.

Today, hydrogen is used as a chemical feedstock in petrochemical and refinery processing and fertilizer production. However, there is growing recognition of other uses for hydrogen, including as a low- or zero-carbon fuel alternative, particularly for natural gas.

Hydrogen can serve as a replacement for natural gas, or in some cases, it can be blended with natural gas into the existing pipeline network to create a lower-carbon fuel. This is critical for the industrial sector, where certain processes, such as steel and cement production, rely on natural gas to meet their high heat requirements.

Clean hydrogen clusters could provide decarbonized energy for US industry

As shown in the map below, hydrogen-producing facilities are often located near other industrial and power facilities. Those facilities could potentially replace or supplement their fuel supply with hydrogen, enabling them to lower their emissions. For example, the Gulf Coast is home to many hydrogen-producing facilities and many facilities that rely on fossil fuels to power their operations.

These existing clusters of hydrogen production and fossil fuel demand can serve as natural launching points for a broader transition to hydrogen in the industrial and power sectors.

Click on individual facilities for more information about their energy consumption.

Zero-carbon pathways needed for clean hydrogen

For hydrogen to be an effective decarbonization solution, it must be produced with a zero-carbon pathway, which can be costly compared to conventional hydrogen production. Today, most hydrogen is produced with steam methane reforming. The process uses high-temperature steam to isolate hydrogen atoms in a methane source such as natural gas. This can be a zero-carbon pathway when coupled with carbon capture technologies.

Other clean hydrogen pathways include using renewable energy to power hydrogen production through electrolysis and gasification of solid carbon sources like biomass in conjunction with carbon capture.

Supportive policies and private investment needed to grow clean hydrogen production

Deploying clean hydrogen at scale will require supportive policies that accomplish the following:

  • reduce the cost of producing low- and zero-carbon hydrogen
  • spur deployment of hydrogen transport and distribution infrastructure
  • develop the consumer market for hydrogen

Supportive policies and private sector investment can enable the US to take advantage of the myriad beneficial applications of hydrogen. With its ability to be flexibly produced, provide seasonal energy storage, and meet the high heat requirements of many industrial processes, hydrogen can play a crucial role in meeting midcentury climate goals.

Read more about policies to advance hydrogen production and deployment in the i3 Federal and State Policy Blueprint.

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