A global energy crisis along with mounting pressure to decarbonize has businesses, states, policymakers and countries around the world searching for long-term energy solutions. Accelerating investment and development of hydrogen is a crucial step forward, and Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan are poised to lead the way.
The recent Midwest Hydrogen Summit highlights the momentum in the region and the innovation and collaboration taking place across the value chain to advance the emerging hydrogen economy.
Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, and when it is used as fuel, its only significant byproduct is water vapor. Hydrogen can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 18% to 26% by 2025.
Recent advances in hydrogen technology offer huge potential for decarbonizing the transportation, industrial and power generation sectors. As a major transportation hub with a robust manufacturing base, the Midwest is uniquely capable of producing the equipment, devices and infrastructure necessary for a thriving hydrogen economy — and its thousands of well-paying jobs.
The Midwest has some of the most productive clean energy generation in the nation. Illinois, for instance, has 11 nuclear reactors — more than any other state. Iowa, Minnesota, and Illinois rank in the top 10 nationally for wind power generation, and the Midwest has abundant water supplies to produce hydrogen from water.
Keep in mind the world’s energy systems require storage to ensure operational resiliency, and today, the bulk of our country’s storage is in carbon fuels. As we move toward net-zero fuel usage, storage needs will become more crucial. Fortunately, hydrogen and its derivatives, such as ammonia, provide opportunities to store energy in forms that will not produce carbon dioxide emissions.
Hydrogen’s storage and transportation capabilities are often the lowest-cost option for storing large amounts of energy over days, weeks or months.
Even more cost savings become possible by moving hydrogen through resilient infrastructure. This way, we can transport carbon-free energy over long distances — from regions with abundant resources to those without.
The Midwestern Hydrogen Partnership, initiated in 2019 by Argonne National Lab and the University of Illinois, is collaborating to develop projects associated with hydrogen production. Hydrogen can become a global market in the coming decades, and industry estimates show the potential for 700,000 U.S. jobs in the hydrogen economy by 2030.
Given the growth of hydrogen technology in the Midwest (Hyzon Motors in Bolingbrook is building America’s largest fuel cell component factory in Illinois), the region has the potential to drive market growth and the hydrogen economy further.
This economic development will be driven by hydrogen demand, which could vary from 150 to 500 million metric tons per year by 2050, creating opportunities for technology development, investment and employment.
To take advantage of these investment opportunities the U.S. needs to take a leadership position. Other global leaders like the EU are investing in hydrogen production hubs, and China, Korea and Japan are investing in fuel cell technologies.
These initiatives offer great promise in the quest to achieve a clean energy future, but continuously educating the public and policymakers on hydrogen’s benefits is crucial.
* Tim Lindsey is a senior adviser to the University of Illinois Grainger College of Engineering, where he researches and leads strategic energy initiatives.