Jon Ossoff, Georgia’s Democratic U.S. senator, and Tim Echols, the Republican vice chair of the state’s utilities regulator, have teamed up to create a coalition of experts and business leaders to promote Georgia as a center for hydrogen energy.
The “Georgia Hydrogen Energy Braintrust,” anchored by Georgia Tech, is intended to help the state take advantage of a surge in public and private funding to develop hydrogen as a means for providing reliable energy while reducing planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions.
“I’m building the bipartisan statewide forum for the long-term planning of Georgia’s hydrogen energy infrastructure,” Ossoff said.
Hydrogen has been hyped for years as an energy source that could help the global economy wean off of fossil fuels, but its impact on the climate hinges on how it’s produced and used. Most major environmental groups have hedged their support for it.
Although hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, it rarely exists on its own on Earth. To be used as a fuel, it needs to be derived from other compounds that contain it.
Hydrogen is also not a primary energy source like solar, wind or fossil fuels — rather, it’s a means of carrying and storing energy, and therefore must be used in conjunction with a primary source.
Today, over 90% of hydrogen is derived from fossil fuels. Hydrogen is used in a very limited capacity to fuel some vehicles, and utilities, including Georgia Power, are experimenting by adding it to the mix of natural gas burned in power plants for electricity.
Echols, the Public Service Commission vice chairman, said by working together across political boundaries, officials can help make hydrogen an economic driver in the state in much the same way electric vehicle manufacturers have committed billions in investment.
“There’s a lot of money there and we just need to generate more interest,” Echols said.
Timothy Lieuwen, the executive director of Georgia Tech’s Strategic Energy Institute, said hydrogen could be used to store energy from renewable sources to aid the decarbonization of the energy sector, but doing so requires significant manufacturing and workforce development.
“Many of the things that people list as cons of hydrogen are really probably better put as cons for immediate, large-scale deployment of hydrogen today,” Lieuwen said. “We’re talking about a massive industry, potentially massive industry sector, that really doesn’t exist today.”
The creation of the braintrust comes on the heels of a parallel effort, led by Ossoff and backed by a coalition of politicians, utilities and other businesses, to land a competitive grant from the U.S. Department of Energy for a southeast regional hydrogen “hub” funded by $8 billion from the federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
Lieuwen said if Georgia and its partners manage to secure the funding, it will probably lead to the construction of new manufacturing facilities located next to primary energy sources like solar farms or power plants.
“The hubs came out of the infrastructure bill, so they’re about pouring concrete, putting steel in the ground, making infrastructure particularly suited around producing hydrogen and transporting hydrogen,” he said. “Hydrogen — it’s not the only solution, but it’s an important part of the solution towards us achieving that goal of decarbonizing our state.”
Echols said the braintrust is scheduled to meet quarterly, with the first meeting slated for Feb. 6 at Georgia Power’s Plant McDonough. Plant McDonough, a former coal-powered plant that now generates electricity via natural gas, was the site of Georgia Power’s first test last year of a hydrogen fuel mix.
— Staff writer Drew Kann contributed to this report.
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