Hydrogen is having a moment.
Heralded for decades as the “fuel of the future,” the most common element in the universe is again gaining recognition for its potential role in decarbonizing some of the most challenging sectors of society.
Hydrogen investments in the United States doubled in value between 2020 and 2021. In addition, the Department of Energy has launched a Hydrogen Shot initiative to drastically reduce the price of clean hydrogen. Congress has expressed support for clean hydrogen, too, including passing billions of dollars for hydrogen technology as part of last year’s bipartisan infrastructure law.
Numerous states are now vying for a slice of that funding, including Utah, which has earned international attention for its multiple industry-leading hydrogen projects.
To explore the opportunities and challenges for clean hydrogen in Utah, C2ES held a virtual roundtable discussion in November 2021. Our state policy team brought together more than 90 local leaders from business, state, and local government, nonprofits, universities, and other organizations, who shared their views on the future of hydrogen in the state.
The outcomes from the roundtable are detailed in our new policy brief, Fueling a Low-Carbon Future in Utah: The Role of Hydrogen.
We learned that interest in hydrogen in Utah is high, from government and private sector investors making high-profile hydrogen deals to curious local government leaders who’ve heard the hydrogen hype and want to know more.
But with that interest come questions. What impact will hydrogen production have on Utah’s water availability and air quality? For which applications will hydrogen be a competitive decarbonization tool? And what can the state do to improve public awareness and hydrogen infrastructure in a way that can foster market growth for hydrogen technologies?
These questions may be driven by Utah-specific concerns, but they apply to the hydrogen industry’s success at both the national and international levels. Answering these questions and better characterizing hydrogen’s potential in locally relevant ways will be critical to scaling the sector and realizing the tangible benefits hydrogen can bring across the country, including the potential for improved air quality, jobs, infrastructure improvements, and more.
Major points during the discussion included:
- Utah is well positioned for a key role in growing the hydrogen sector. The state is strategically located in the West, with connections to major population and trade centers. Its growing logistics industry, with trucking and rail centers, is a natural user base for hydrogen technologies. As an energy-producing state, Utah also has ample infrastructure, a workforce with expertise that can apply to hydrogen investments, and high renewable energy potential essential for economically producing hydrogen via electrolysis. Furthermore, as the host to the largest “Gulf-style” geologic salt dome in the Western United States, Utah has a competitive advantage in hydrogen storage that is already in development.
- Hydrogen faces barriers in the state that reflect broader societal challenges. These include concerns about water availability for green hydrogen production, especially given Utah’s growing drought, which led some in the group to suggest natural gas-based hydrogen is more appropriate for the state. But in Utah’s notoriously leaky Uinta Basin, fugitive methane emissions, roughly three times the national average, are a serious impediment to producing low-carbon hydrogen. Utah’s multiple air quality challenges also make it crucial to ensure that hydrogen production and use minimize criteria pollutant emissions–like nitrogen oxides (NOx)–which are released when hydrogen is burned. In addition to these Utah-specific concerns, participants pointed out a variety of barriers facing the sector as a whole, including cost challenges; lack of hydrogen infrastructure, such as fueling stations and pipelines; and the need to bolster public awareness and create demand to grow the market for these technologies.
- Hydrogen can bring numerous benefits to Utah, but the state needs intentional planning and policies to realize them. By effectively addressing the barriers above, Utah can ensure communities benefit from the growth of hydrogen. For instance, workers whose jobs depend on Utah’s fossil-heavy energy sector can channel their expertise into emerging hydrogen opportunities in the clean energy transition. With effective air pollution control measures, hydrogen can also help improve Utah’s air quality by eliminating criteria emissions from sources like trucks or trains. Finally, the state can capitalize on its competitive business environment and growing startup ecosystem to attract new investment and make Utah a hub for hydrogen innovation in the West.
Read the full brief to learn more: Fueling a Low-Carbon Future in Utah:The Role of Hydrogen