11 winners from the US’ $7B investment in clean hydrogen’

Get familiar with the entities best positioned to shape — and benefit from — the plan to create 7 hydrogen hubs” around the nation.
By Julian Spector

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A large partially finished construction site at an industrial facility
A partially constructed hydrogen plant at Chevron's Richmond, Calif. refinery in 2009 (Liz Hafalia/The San Francisco Chronicle/Getty Images)

The Department of Energy laid down its bets Friday in the first phase of its effort to instigate an American clean-hydrogen economy. The agency selected seven regional winners of a collective $7 billion in funding allocated by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to get a series of hydrogen hubs” up and running. Now negotiations will begin to finalize the proposals.

The DOE, following the requirements in the law, spread out the hubs geographically and technologically, investing in different sources and uses for clean hydrogen. To qualify, each hub had to convincingly demonstrate that it could produce at least 50100 metric tons of clean hydrogen per day and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” The diversified approach broadens the toolkit and gives more communities a reason to get excited about a potential hydrogen economy, though it has also elicited criticism from climate advocates for its support of hydrogen derived from methane with carbon capture.

As demonstrated by the fanfare surrounding the program’s presidential rollout, the big bucks at play and the potential to help decarbonize everything from steelmaking to aviation, the hydrogen hubs are set to become one of the biggest storylines in the U.S. clean energy transition. So it’s a fitting time to get familiar with the entities best positioned to shape — and benefit from — the emerging low-carbon hydrogen economy.

The total tally of organizations is far too extensive to relay here — just the California hub’s list of 400 participants stretches about as long as that state’s scenic coastline. But a handful of companies appear in two or more regional hydrogen hubs; this list includes oil and gas majors, clean electricity producers, cleantech startups and at least one major corporate customer. One player in particular gets around: Legacy industrial hydrogen supplier Air Liquide showed up on the dance cards at six of the seven winning hubs, which seems to be the record.

Here’s a handy alphabetical guide to the most active participants named in the DOE’s chosen hydrogen hubs (with hubs listed in parentheses).

AES Corporation (California, Gulf Coast)

This independent power producer took a decisive strategic turn toward clean energy in recent years, shutting down coal plants and building renewables and batteries. Now it stands to supply the renewable power needed to run electrolysis for green-hydrogen production. AES previously stated it would build a $4 billion renewables-powered hydrogen facility northwest of Dallas along with legacy producer Air Products. They’re aiming to bring it online by 2027, turning 1.4 gigawatts of renewable generation into 200 metric tons per day of green hydrogen, far bigger than anything like it in the U.S. today, and a step toward the DOE’s goal of producing 10 million metric tons of clean hydrogen annually by 2030.

Air Liquide (Appalachia, California, Gulf Coast, mid-Atlantic, PNW)

It might not be a household name, but 120-year-old French company Air Liquide is a central figure in the legacy hydrogen industry, which has focused almost entirely on the carbon-emitting steam methane reformation process. But Air Liquide has taken steps to keep up with the green-hydrogen revolution; in 2021, it opened a facility housing 20 megawatts of electrolyzers in Quebec powered by local hydropower, which ranked as the largest green-hydrogen production in the world way back then. The company operates extensively in the Gulf Coast petrochemical corridor, and it already stores hydrogen in an underground cavern in Beaumont, Texas that holds a month’s worth of backup for its pipeline. But the geographical spread of the hub appearances shows that Air Liquide won’t be pigeonholed in any one region.

A large complex metal industrial device with many tubes and pipes inside a warehouse
An electrolysis plant at an Air Liquide facility in Germany (Henning Kaiser/Picture Alliance/Getty Images)

Amazon (California, PNW)

The online retailer and web services giant invested early in hydrogen to power forklifts at its warehouses; it found the liquid fuel performed better than batteries for running emissions-free indoor vehicles. As of 2022, Amazon was running 15,000 forklifts at 70 fulfillment centers on green hydrogen with help from partner Plug Power, while scoping out the fuel for decarbonizing its delivery fleet. Both the California and the Pacific Northwest hubs aim to remake the West Coast heavy-duty trucking network in a cleaner, hydrogen-powered image. Amazon has explicitly said it is testing hydrogen trucks for shipping and fuel cells for powering its buildings, and it wants to use its bulk purchasing power to expand the market for cleanly produced hydrogen. Now it will have a chance to make good on those aspirations.

Bloom Energy (California, mid-Atlantic)

This long-running and perennially unprofitable cleantech player has sold solid-oxide fuel cells to give customers 24/7 onsite power production without any combustion. Those fuel cells historically have run on fossil gas, but more recently Bloom has played up its hydrogen competency so its purported climate solutions don’t depend on a steady supply of fossil fuels. It recently tested its high-temperature solid-oxide electrolyzer at government research centers, and it claims it produces hydrogen more efficiently than other leading electrolyzer technologies.

Chevron (California, Gulf Coast)

The U.S.-based oil major hasn’t done much to create clean energy thus far; its roundup of low-carbon efforts makes much use of the future tense. But the company knows hydrogen: It makes 1 million metric tons of the gas per year from fossil fuels, much of which is used to refine oil. As far as forward-looking, potentially clean hydrogen, Chevron owns a majority stake in the electrolysis and storage venture in Delta, Utah known as ACES; it also is working on Gulf Coast hydrogen production with Air Liquide and other partners.

ExxonMobil (Gulf Coast, Midwest)

For many years, ExxonMobil’s clean-energy aspirations amounted to running ads about an algae-based biofuel program that even it eventually admitted didn’t make sense. Now Exxon is betting that its base of infrastructure in the Gulf and general know-how for making and selling liquid fuels will give it an edge in the emerging clean-hydrogen economy. The feds are spending money on blue hydrogen, which requires capturing carbon emissions and piping it into permanent storage. Piping gases around and flushing them underground happens to be one of Exxon’s strong suits. If the existing carbon pipelines around Houston can’t support competitive blue-hydrogen production, it’s hard to imagine anywhere else that could.

GTI Energy (Appalachia, Gulf Coast, Midwest)

Illinois-based nonprofit GTI is focused on developing, scaling, and deploying energy transition solutions that improve lives, economies, and the environment.” Apparently, it’s got a knack for the nonprofit equivalent of business development — multiple hubs tapped GTI to help organize and administer their grants.

Holtec (Midwest, mid-Atlantic)

Holtec looms large in the nuclear power industry: It services and maintains nuclear power plants, stores nuclear waste, and even developed its own design for a small modular reactor that just might see the light of day some year in the future. Holtec is participating in two of the hubs that we know will tap existing nuclear fleets to supply carbon-free power for electrolysis. Wind and solar can produce green hydrogen when they’re available; nuclear could provide carbon-free power round the clock. The 24/7 industrial demand for hydrogen production would make for welcome commercial demand at legacy nuclear plants that have struggled to keep their doors open.

Mitsubishi Power Americas (Gulf Coast, PNW)

Mitsubishi got in early on green hydrogen working on the fully integrated hydrogen project in Delta, Utah, which will combine production, underground storage and use for power and other needs. That experience, plus a big balance sheet and a trusted brand in heavy power equipment, made Mitsubishi Power a sought-after partner for the Gulf Coast and Pacific Northwest hubs.

Plug Power (Appalachia, California, Midwest)

Publicly traded Plug Power started off making fuel cells but hit its commercial stride by selling thousands of fuel-cell forklifts to Amazon. Now it is building its own green-hydrogen production with electrolyzer technology it acquired from a company called Giner ELX. Its new green-hydrogen production line is coming online this fall in Georgia; that will make it one of the first newcomers to join the ranks of Air Liquide and other legacy firms supplying liquid hydrogen to vehicles. But Plug is building a brisk business selling fuel cells, electrolyzers and liquefaction equipment to whoever needs it. It’s picks and shovels” for the hydrogen gold rush, and executives reported recently that this puts them on a path to profitability.”

TC Energy (Appalachia, Heartland)

Canadian energy company TC Energy already owns and operates considerable fossil gas infrastructure (anyone remember TransCanada?). Now it’s moving into the hypothetically cleaner world of hydrogen gas production and distribution. TC has previously signed tentative agreements to explore” hydrogen projects with Marathon Petroleum, Hyzon and Nikola. The company is excited about using diverse feedstocks” to make hydrogen, meaning renewable electrolysis as well as fossil-based production with carbon capture. TC Energy says it’s developing a total of 10 blue and green hydrogen hubs across North America. The jury’s still out on whether blue hydrogen makes sense from a climate perspective. But the blue hydrogen that gets federal dollars will need to put its carbon dioxide somewhere, so a gas company with pipeline assets will have a role to play.

Correction: This article has been updated to clarify that Air Liquide is involved in six of out of the seven hydrogen hub projects, not five out of seven, as initially written. 

Julian Spector is a senior reporter at Canary Media. He reports on batteries, long-duration energy storage, low-carbon hydrogen and clean energy breakthroughs around the world.