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Are Hydrogen Hubs The Future of Clean Energy? It’s Not a Clear Answer.

The United States Department of Energy has announced that, in an attempt to increase national clean energy sources, it is allocating nearly $7 billion to establish a network of hydrogen hubs across the United States. Hydrogen hubs are a cluster of machines that will produce and store hydrogen, an emerging form of energy production. Out of the seven hydrogen hubs that the government is funding, only two are completely relying on clean energy. The others will use a mixture of renewable energy, nuclear power, and natural gas.

Three hydrogen tanks labeled "HYDROGEN H2" on a green field with wind turbines and solar panels, with blue sky.
Hydrogen plants can be powered by clean energy, but many aren't. (Vanit Janthra/iStock via E&E News)

These hubs are focusing on “green hydrogen” — hydrogen made by splitting water, which requires a lot of electricity and water. Hydrogen, unlike fossil fuels, does not produce greenhouse emissions. The Department of Energy theorizes that using these hydrogen hubs will reduce enough emissions equivalent to removing 5.5 million cars from the road. Not only is hydrogen easy to store and transport, but it can also decarbonize a lot of sectors that are heavily reliant on fossil fuels, like the production of steel.

While researchers predict that green hydrogen could support almost 24 percent of global energy by 2050, many climate scientists are skeptical of its benefits over 96 percent of hydrogen is currently produced using fossil fuels, even though carbon-free energy is sufficient. Scientists are worried that fossil fuel companies will take advantage of hydrogens’ growing popularity by attempting to produce them with fossil fuels.

Studies have also shown that hydrogen energy has been much less efficient in heating homes and powering vehicles when compared to fossil fuel energy. Therefore, many scientists are worried about “greenwashing,” as they believe this huge allocation of funding misleads the general population into thinking hydrogen can effectively replace fossil fuels without any environmental or lifestyle changes.

Furthermore, hydrogen production is water-intensive, meaning that even if scientists use renewable energy to produce the hydrogen, it still requires a huge amount of water in order to manufacture it. In drought-ridden regions, hydrogen will not become a viable option, even though many of those areas also have the highest renewable energy potential on the planet.

Many advocates maintain that the Biden Administration should impose strict regulations to ensure that fossil-fuel hydrogen projects are not funded by the Department of Energy. Instead, they believe that money should go to clean, renewable energy projects.

Ultimately, before we can decide whether or not hydrogen hubs could be a major source of clean energy, the role of water and how it takes part in the function of hydrogen hubs need to be examined further. Until we find out if hydrogen hubs are a feasible and practical option for most countries, we cannot determine their impact on our future as a planet. For now, the question still remains, will hydrogen hubs be the key to making the switch from fossil fuels to clean energy?

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Woods, Philip, Heriberto Bustamante, and Kondo Francois Aguey-Zinsou. 2022. “The Hydrogen Economy - Where Is the Water?” Energy Nexus. Elsevier. July 28.

Noor, Dharna. 2023. “Biden Administration to Award $7BN in Grants to Create Us ‘Hydrogen Hubs.’” The Guardian. October 13.

“Regional Clean Hydrogen Hubs.” 2023. US Department of Energy. Accessed October 31.

Clifford, Catherine. 2023. “Why Some of the ‘clean’ Hydrogen Hubs in the U.S. Plan to Use Natural Gas, a Fossil Fuel.” CNBC. October 31.

“Our Vision for Hydrogen in the US.” 2023a. Hydrogen Hub | National Grid Group. Accessed October 31.

DeLorenzo, Lauren. 2021. “Additional $150 Million for Regional Hydrogen Hubs.” Energy Magazine. September 20.


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