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Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana are in a heated national competition to land a hydrogen hub

Ohio wants to become a blue hydrogen hub, a federally funded project proving the viability of a hydrogen value chain from production to end use.
Wikimedia Commons
Ohio wants to become a blue hydrogen hub, a federally funded project proving the viability of a hydrogen value chain from production to end use.

A total of $8 billion is up for grabs to states chosen to start one of four hydrogen hubs. The money is part of the infrastructure law, which in this project, hopes to assess the viability of a hydrogen economy from production to processing, delivery, storage and end use.

Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and dozens of other states are vying to be part of it. The Ohio Clean Hydrogen Hub Alliance has many partners; Kentucky has started a hydrogen work group; and Indiana considers itself a hydrogen leader.

The U.S. government is encouraging all to apply. Applications will open this summer.

At least two of the hydrogen hubs will involve blue hydrogen, which uses natural gas — something Ohio has a lot of.

Ohio River Valley Institute

CEO of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce Steve Stivers thinks the state has a good chance of being selected.

“For us, here at the Chamber, it’s about making the world greener. Natural gas burns cleaner than almost any other fuel — not quite as clean as green hydrogen. There’s going to happen somewhere, why not have them happen in Ohio?” he asks.

Stivers points to the hydrogen company Hyperion moving back to Columbus and starting production next year.

To make blue hydrogen, you combine fossil fuels with steam and heat them up. This produces carbon dioxide and hydrogen. The two gases are separated, and the CO2 is captured and then stored underground. But there are methane gas leaks in the process. It's different from green hydrogen, which is cleaner. It uses electrolysis where electricity splits hydrogen from oxygen molecules in water. Ohio wants a blue hydrogen hub to use its natural gas.

How clean is blue hydrogen and how expensive is it?

Researchers at Cornell and Stanford, in the publication Energy and Engineering, say the carbon footprint to create blue hydrogen is more than 20% greater than using either natural gas or coal directly for heat, or about 60% greater than using diesel oil for heat. Exactly, says Ohio River Valley Institute Senior Researcher Sean O'Leary. He says it's a bad idea for a number of reasons but he's focusing on the economic ones.

“Hydrogen is too expensive and inefficient for use in mass consumption applications like automobiles, home heating and generating electricity, and the so-called clean hydrogen that hub supporters talk about is even more costly than conventional hydrogen,” he says.

He says the cleaner alternatives are electric vehicles, electric heat pumps and wind and solar power. The Chamber's Stivers has a counter to that.

“The difference between hydrogen and solar and wind is the wind doesn’t always blow in Ohio and the sun doesn’t always shine in Ohio. You can make hydrogen in Ohio every minute of every day,” he says.

Stivers is confident the state can come up with the workforce needed. The Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Energy Association estimates transition to a hydrogen economy would create three-and-a-half million new jobs by 2050 with 700,000 workers needed by 2030.

Stivers says by next year we should see some real movement about opportunities. Any hydrogen hub would likely go between Columbus and the Utica and Marcellus Shale areas, which are in the eastern part of the state, a big source of natural gas.

Ann Thompson has decades of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market and brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting.