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Geography matters: coastal green hydrogen hub as a key to building a hydrogen economy (Part 2)
Geography matters: coastal green hydrogen hub as a key to building a hydrogen economy (Part 2)
Venera N. Anderson
Oct 04 2022 · 22 min read

Illuminem Voices
Hydrogen · Green Hydrogen · Energy Transition

Read Part 1 of the article here

Section 4. Examples of Upcoming Use

Based on the previous map and concept expansion analyses, the US West and Gulf of Mexico coasts are suitable locations for coastal GH2 hubs, similar to ones in North Germany. GPI (2022) also confirms such sites among 14 identified candidates for potential US H2 hubs, as shown in Figure 9.

Figure 9, Potential hydrogen, hubs: GPI’s Carbon and hydrogen hubs, adapted from An Atlas of Carbon and Hydrogen Hubs for United States Decarbonization (p. 5) by GPI (2022).

The following case studies describe potential coastal GH2 hubs in Southern California and Texas, capable of "holistic system integration" through sector coupling with GH2.

HyDeal LA (California) – Case Study

HyDeal Los Angeles (HyDeal LA), located on US West Coast, is an initiative that seeks to position Los Angeles as the first US GH2 hub. This utility-scale project aims to deliver GH2 at ~$1.50/kg in concert with the $1/kg DOE Hydrogen Earthshot goal. It is estimated that the GH2 hub will cost nearly $27 billion over ten years. This amount represents about 25% of planned existing Southern California infrastructure spending by electric and gas utilities over the same period. HyDeal LA, currently in Phase 2, seeks to "bring together the entire value chain across the LA Basin, including production, transport, storage, and multisectoral aggregated offtake" (GH2, 2022).

As shown in Figure 10, this project meets all six prerequisites of an ideal coastal GH2 hub.

Figure 10, HyDeal LA, a connects multisectoral off-takers and low-cost renewable electrolytic production and storage, spanning four US states. Adapted from HyDeal Los Angeles (p. 2) by GH2 (2022).

First, according to Figure 3, Los Angeles is surrounded by a cluster of facilities for renewable electricity (additional to planned and operating) solar/wind generation for GH2 production. The hub developers anticipate using in the near term the existing electric infrastructure within the LA basin for electrolysis (GPI, GH2, 2022).

Second, per Figure 4, the Port of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the two biggest US ports combined, can serve as business and logistics hubs for GH2 import/export. The proximity to the Asia-Pacific region with large potential GH2 consumers, especially, is attractive for this GH2 hub (Krause, 2021; GPI, 2022).

Third, per Figure 10, HyDeal LA is relatively close (700 km) to underground geological storage (salt domes) in Central Utah. The GH2 storage can “shift excess energy from periods of oversupply, like California in the spring, to periods of undersupply, like California in late summer” (Hornyak, 2020, p.3). During Phase 1, the hub developers analyzed potential key connection routes for GH2 infrastructure (GH2, 2022).

Fourth, per Figure 5, HyDeal LA has industrial clusters with highly skilled workers already using H2 technology and infrastructure. Southern California possesses a large concentration of heavy industries, including natural gas processing, petroleum refining, and steel and cement manufacturing. As shown in Figure 6, there are already 9 H2-producing facilities, which are already co-located with the main corridor of fossil fuel use and industrial activity. GH2 can potentially be a zero-carbon alternative to fossil fuels at these industrial facilities. HyDeal LA is focused explicitly on the GH2 scale-up and use by displacing natural gas in the 4 power plants near Los Angeles and Long Beach ports. This project partner with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power California (Krause, 2021; GH2, 2022; GPI, 2022).

Fifth, HyDeal LA has many potential GH2 off-takers from various sectors. During Phase 1, the hub developers identified 13 million metric tons of GH2 likely total demand in the LA basin, focusing on applications in heavy-duty trucking in addition to previously mentioned industrial and power applications (GH2, 2022).

Sixth, HyDeal LA plans to build 100% dedicated GH2 pipelines that connect Los Angeles with Central Utah. New GH2 pipelines may follow existing right-of-way 1,596 miles of oil pipelines to reach effective build-out. HyDeal LA may also use 750 miles of natural gas pipelines, railroads, barge waterways, and freight highways, as shown in Figures 4, 7, and 8. HyDeal LA developers plan to spend $4 billion on utility infrastructure, particularly building 2000 km greenfield pipelines, as reflected in Figure 11 (GPI; GH2, 2022).

Figure 11, HyDeal LA, Proposed GH2 Infrastructure Spend, from HyDeal Los Angeles (p. 3) by GH2 (2022).

Lastly, California has a supportive political environment. Los Angeles is set to become 100% renewable by 2035, and the state has a low-carbon fuel standard (LCFS). As a state with a significant refinery industry, California may use GH2 production to generate LCFS credits (Krause, 2021). California is also home to many clean energy research initiatives, namely Stanford University Hydrogen Initiative, which launched in May 2022 (Stanford, 2022).

Houston (Texas) – Case Study

According to GPI (2022), Houston, Texas, is the best candidate for an initial US H2 hub on the Gulf Coast, as shown in Figure 9. Center for Houston's Future proclaims that a “Houston-led clean hydrogen hub could have a sizable and lasting impact on the region" (Houston, 2021, p.1). This proposed coastal GH2 hub also seeks to deliver GH2 to meet the $1/kg DOE Hydrogen Earthshot goal. For example, Houston (2021) estimates that average wind LCOE without Texas's Production Tax Credit may drop from $28/MWh in 2020 to $21/MWh in 2030, with a continuous decline in wind capital expenditures. The such estimation includes a capacity factor of 46% in 2020 and 51% in 2030, along with the growing electrolyzer system of ~ 2MW in 2020, ~ 20MW in 2025, and ~85MW from 2030 to 2050. This LCOE also includes the top quartile of Texas' wind speed. Based on the assumptions above, GH2 costs in Texas could be approximately $3.2/kg (2020), $1.5/kg (2030), and $1/kg in 2050.

A Houston-led proposed project ("Houston") has all six components of an ideal coastal GH2 hub.

First, according to Figure 3, Houston is surrounded by a cluster of facilities for renewable electricity (additional to planned and operating) wind/solar generation for GH2 production. Further, Texas can have a vital advantage in GH2output since it produces the most wind-powered generation in the US (Houston, 2021).

Second, per Figure 4, the Port of Houston can serve as a business and logistics hub for GH2 import/export. Houston (2021) believes that the US Gulf Coast can compete with the foreign exporters (Saudi Arabia, Australia, and Chile) on the GH2 delivered cost by leveraging the port infrastructure, strategic considerations, and cost advantages. Texas GH2 demand can reach 21MT in 2050 compared to 3.6MT in 2021, comprising 11 MT for local GH2 demand and 10 MT for export.

Third, Houston has proximity to potential ample H2 storage resources, as shown in Figure 12. Texas Gulf Coast has three out of four global salt caverns currently used for H2 storage (Houston, 2021).

Figure 12, Current hydrogen system in the Gulf Coast area, Existing hydrogen system in the Gulf Coast area. From Houston as the epicenter of a global clean hydrogen area(p. 6) by Houston (2021).

Fourth, per Figure 5, Houston has industrial clusters with highly skilled workers already using H2 technology and infrastructure. These clusters comprise petroleum refining, chemicals and petrochemicals production, and natural gas processing. As shown in Figure 6, there are already 14 H2-producing facilities positioned next to the industrial clusters (GPI, 2022). GH2 can also be potentially utilized as a zero-carbon alternative to fossil fuels at these industrial facilities. After GH2 export as the most significant driver of GH2 demand, industrial applications are the second most significant GH2 driver, accounting for ~6MT of GH2 demand (Houston, 2021).

Fifth, Houston has many potential GH2 off-takers from various sectors. In addition to the export of GH2 and H2-based fuels and industrial applications, mobility and utility are the other drivers of Texas GH2 demand. Ground transportation mobility accounts for ~ 2.3 MT of GH2 demand, and marine/aviation transportation accounts for ~1.5 MT of GH2 demand (Houston, 2021).

Sixth, the Texas Gulf Coast possesses 900 miles of H2 pipelines, which account for more than ½ of all US H2pipelines and 1/3 of the world’s total. Houston can also build new H2 pipelines to follow existing right-of-way 11,494 miles of oil pipelines to reach effective build-out. Houston may also use existing 7,892 miles of natural gas pipelines, barge waterways, and freight highways, as shown in Figures 4, 7, and 8 (Houston, 2021; GPI, 2022).

Lastly, Houston has a supportive political environment in principle, given that it adopted a climate action plan of net zero carbon emissions by 2050. However, in contrast to Southern California, Texas still needs to take more ambitious actions to achieve GHG reductions (Coleman, 2021) with additional supportive GH2 policy frameworks. Due to the substantial oil and gas industrial presence, Texas coastal GH2 hub developers might face stiff competition from their emerging blue H2 counterparts (Saucier, 2022). For example, ExxonMobil plans to produce blue H2 at its integrated petrochemical and refining facility close to Houston in Baytown, Texas (Lewis, 2022). The following section discusses suggestions for the US concept expansion.

Section 5. Discussion

This section outlines the highly optimistic vision for expanding the concept of coastal GH2 hubs in the US. It includes guiding principles that shape the vision and recommendations for the concept expansion. EU field visit to the Dutch Research Institute for Transitions (DRIFT) in Rotterdam, Netherlands; van den Bergh’s theoretical perspective on sustainable development; and “The Energy Imperative” (Sheer, 2012) informed the vision.

First, Loorbach (personal communication, June 22, 2022) described the model for transition governance, providing the vision's leading principles. Transition is a "process of structural, non-linear systemic change in dominant regime that takes place over decades" (Rotmans et al., 2001, Grin et al., 2010). The regime is characterized by prevalent and familiar ways of "thinking, organizing and doing in a societal (sub)system" (Loorbach, 2022).

Second, van den Bergh's evolutionary-technical theoretical perspective complements DRIFT's model since it focuses on “maintaining co-evolutionary adaptive capacity in terms of knowledge and technology to react to uncertainties; fostering economic diversity of actors, sectors, and technologies” (Zachary, 2014). Co-evolution is "the proper perspective for thinking about governance for sustainable development" (Kemp et al., 2007, p.1).

Third, due to current energy security concerns about Russian natural gas, the vision does not incorporate Loorbach (2022)'s recommendation of "investing in blue hydrogen as a prelude to green hydrogen" (p.32). Instead, the vision relies on Scheer's (2012)'s avoidance of the traditional power industry's alternatives as "bridges" to renewable energy (p.41). Therefore, the vision and recommendations for the study's concept represent the modified version of DRIFT's model. The study's author (Anderson, 2022) introduces a new concept describing this type of transition governance model toward the H2 economy: a “quasi-revolutionary transition.

Guiding Principles and Recommendations

 The main idea of the transition governance model is "radical in the long-term, diplomatic in the short-term" (Loorbach, 2022). Its five components anchor the vision and recommendations for developing US coastal GH2 hubs. The suggestions for the study's concept expansion are based on the mix of strategies offered for HyDeal LA and Houston's coastal GH2 hubs (GH2, 2022; Houston, 2021) and additional recommendations.

1. Systemic: engage with emerging dynamics across societal levels

The current concerns about climate change and energy security dominate dynamics across societal levels. Therefore, coastal GH2 hubs developers and proponents need to capitalize on such dynamics by creating momentum and gaining support throughout the industry and the government on all levels to focus on transition without "bridge" technologies, such as blue H2. Like playing a symphony, an ensemble is stronger when everyone participates.

Scheer (2012) advises two principles for mobilizing renewable energy 1) look beyond the current traditional costs of renewable energy and conventional technologies by incorporating the climate, health, and other costs, and 2) establish the priority of renewable energy as the systemic energy transition takes place. The adherence to such principles is vital since the growth of renewable energy is tied to the success of coastal GH2 hubs, which have never before been created in the US. Additionally, HyDeal LA developers recommend executing an authentic stakeholder engagement about the GH2cost, uses, and benefits, especially for Communities of Concern, for a just and clean energy transition (GH2, 2022). In sum, since the dominant regime is based on the traditional energy systems, the deep decarbonization transition will be a non-linear, systemic, and structural change throughout the decades.

2. Back-casting: taking the desired transition as a starting point

The creation of a sustainable H2 economy represents the starting point of the study's desired concept expansion. While assisting the growth of the H2 economy, a coastal GH2 hub must achieve and then exceed the DOE’s goals of $1/H2 kg and 2 CO2/H2 kg (Houston, 2022). In addition, coastal GH2 developers must align their objectives with the US, striving to reach net-zero emissions goals by 2050. The US can only achieve this target based on coordinated action, founded on four strategic pillars: federal leadership, non-federal leadership, innovation, and a broad society action (DOS, 2021).

HyDeal LA developers also recommend the following initiatives, which can help coastal GH2 hub developers in the creation of an H2 economy: 1) acceleration of electrolytic electric tariff design; 2) development of US framework and strategy for establishing GH2 environmental attributes, and 3) clarification of jurisdictional authority for interstate H2pipelines (GH2, 2022).

3. Selective: focus on a transformative agency already engaging with the transition

Based on DRIFT’s model, the US coastal GH2 developers need to focus on DOE, state, and local governments, as transformative agencies engaged in building the US H2 economy. Despite the government’s current attention on H2, the playing field for GH2 still needs to be developed to encourage the expansion of coastal GH2 hubs. Cordeau et al. (2022) state that the present state of H2 can be compared to renewables a decade ago when government support was vital for these technologies' acceleration and cost reduction. Close government coordination is also essential for winning government funding and solving challenges associated with the development of US coastal GH2 hubs. Lastly, the hub developers will benefit from establishing relationships with their counterparts abroad, such as Norddeutsches Reallabor and others in the Asia-Pacific.

4. Adaptive: experimenting toward multiple goals and transition pathways

The application of van den Bergh's evolutionary-technical perspective toward the study's concept expansion might prove helpful for coastal US GH2 developers who research the tradeoffs of multiple transition pathways and goals to react to uncertainties. For example, HyDeal LA developers plan to explore municipal waste to clean/green H2 for LA basin GH2 production. They also plan to investigate GH2 and its derivatives for aviation/maritime fuel and fertilizer (GH2, 2022). Van den Bergh’s theoretical perspective also stresses encouraging the economic diversity of sectors, actors, and technologies. Houston (2021), for instance, endorses the creation of a "broad-based regional ecosystem," which involves a variety of GH2 sources, demand enablers, and coordinated storage and transport infrastructure. In so doing, sustainable development based on Houston’s coastal GH2 hub becomes an essential factor for the entire regional and social development.

5. Learning-by-doing and doing-by-learning: ensure monitoring and reflexivity

For the coastal US GH2 hub to deliver on its promise to become a key to creating an H2 economy, it must address any associated challenges swiftly. It is easier and cheaper to develop such a hub right the first time than to fix it later. Kemp et al. (2007) explain that transition management can help shape co-evolutionary processes by utilizing specific visions, transition trials, and "cycles of learning and adaptation" (p.1). For example, HyDeal LA hub developers divided their projects into multiple phases to guarantee reflexivity and monitoring of their efforts. After identifying GH2 demand in Phase 1, HyDeal LA is "building on [the] previous work to co-create the path forward on a foundation of environmental justice" (GH2, 2022, p. 2). In doing so, Phase 2 reflexive and monitoring engagements occur as bimonthly plenary meetings, monthly working groups, and mini-groups to speed up the hub development process (GH2, 2022).

US H2@Scale program is also crucial in implementing the large US GH2 infrastructure initiatives (DOE, 2022b). For instance, in collaboration with Frontier Energy and other stakeholders, H2@Scale-Texas project demonstrates the “learning-by-doing and doing-by-learning” approach through two related initiatives. This three-year project started on July 1, 2020. First, the University of Texas-Austin hosts the novel integration of commercial H2 production, storage, distribution, and storage. Zero-carbon hydrogen is generated through electrolysis (wind and solar power) and SMR (renewable natural gas from a Texas landfill). The H2 is used as a power source for the Texas Advanced Computing Center and GH2 fuel for a fleet of Toyota Mirai’s FCVs. Second, the project team conducts a feasibility study for H2production and scale-up at the Port of Houston, assessing the political, technological, and economic factors necessary for building an H2 economy (UT, 2022). Thus, the initiatives, implemented by HyDeal LA and H2@Scale, guarantee monitoring and reflexivity needed for effective deployment of US coastal GH2 hubs.

Conclusion

This article explains how a coastal GH2 hub can catalyze an accelerating H2 economy. This concept is envisioned to extend US decarbonization strategies to achieve net-zero GHG emissions by 2050. The analysis in this paper draws on materials from EU field-trip visits, domestic/international case studies, map analyses, and quantitative indicators to describe the concept derivation and possibilities for its expansion in the US. The study's author also extends the current sustainability literature by inventing a theoretical concept of "quasi-revolutionary transition" regarding the new transition governance model toward the H2 economy.

As with every research study, this study is not without limitations. Section 3 can benefit from an additional discussion about the impact of the GH2 economy on the water problem. Some critics believe in the water insufficiency to support the H2 economy. However, others, based on their calculations of water requirement for electrolysis and beliefs in the saltwater desalination technology, confirm that the water supply will not be a limiting factor for electrolyzers (ACS, 2021). This supplemental discussion may have been helpful to the discussion about challenges for US coastal GH2 hubs.

The proposed vision in Section 5 has limitations as well. First, as acknowledged earlier, the vision and recommendations represent the highly optimistic pathway for the US H2 economy build-up. Undoubtedly, it would be challenging to quickly increase GH2 supply and demand in the near term. Also, it might be challenging to ensure broad support for the coastal GH2 concept due to potential pushback by the US natural gas/oil companies seeking to build coastal blue H2 hubs. Further partisan divisions might also unnerve coastal US GH2 proponents.

Regardless of these limitations, the article underscores the hope for GH2 by presenting a specific concept and vision for building a sustainable H2 economy in the current geopolitical conditions. The Russia-Ukraine conflict drastically changed the global landscape regarding decarbonization and energy security. Such change can be viewed as the Overton Window, which can move "sometimes dramatically, allowing acceptance of ideas that might have previously seemed outlandish" (Bullard, 2022, p.1). Lastly, the European field-trip experience exposed the extent of Europe's and global response to such change by investing in the groundwork for an H2 economy. This study calls on the US to reinforce and solidify its global H2 position.

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© Venera Naila Anderson, 2022. Illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

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Venera N. Anderson
About the author

Dr. Venera N. Anderson is a global strategy advisor on sustainability and climate issues. She creates and implements innovative solutions that address the world’s most pressing issues, such as climate change, economic development, and humanitarian challenges. She is a member of the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council. She is also an International Expert at Women in Green Hydrogen, a global network that strives to increase the visibility and amplify the voices of women working in the green hydrogen sector, and a Speaker at Tech Up for Women.

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