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With the U.S. government preparing to dole out nearly $26 billion in subsidies for clean hydrogen projects, the question is probably not “if” but “how” the fuel will play a role in the country’s clean energy transition.

Hydrogen is the smallest and most abundant element in the universe. Today, it’s most commonly used in oil refining and fertilizer production, but it can also be burned alongside methane gas in power plants and appliances.

When burned, hydrogen emits only water vapor as exhaust, so if it’s produced with clean electricity it can be a truly clean energy source. But the process of splitting hydrogen from water molecules, known as electrolysis, is extremely energy intensive. In fact, the fuel takes more energy to create than it holds.

For that reason, many climate advocates see a relatively narrow role for hydrogen. It could, for example, be the best solution to power heavy-duty trucks and industrial equipment that can’t easily be switched to electricity.

Gas utilities see a broader role, though — one that could extend the usefulness of the miles and miles of pipelines they own. At least one utility is already experimenting with blending small amounts of hydrogen into its gas distribution lines.

Critics say that approach is too risky and expensive. Hydrogen can exacerbate pipeline cracks, increasing the chance of leaks. Meanwhile, a recent study in Massachusetts found that using clean hydrogen for heating would consume three and a half times more electricity compared to heat pumps.

Which path the fuel takes may start to come into focus after the U.S. Department of Energy decides on more than two dozen applications for funding to start between six and 10 regional clean hydrogen hubs, as soon as this spring.

More clean energy news

☀️ Clean energy dominates new development: Almost all new electricity sources being connected to the grid this year are expected to be wind, solar or storage projects, according to federal data. (news release)

That new electricity will require new power lines: A draft Department of Energy study found that U.S. transmission capacity will need to increase by more than 50% by 2035. (Utility Dive)

📈 Meanwhile, emissions keep climbing: Despite all that new clean energy, the International Energy Agency says global CO2 emissions “remain on an unsustainable growth trajectory,” though they rose at a slower pace in 2022. (The Hill)

🚿 Your own personal power plant: A Hawaii startup has developed a smart control module allowing hot water heaters to function as a virtual power plant by turning on and off to match solar and wind generation and power demand fluctuations. (Canary Media)

👷 IRA funds elude union workers: President Biden has pledged that the clean energy transition will benefit union workers, but the majority of Inflation Reduction Act investments so far have been in states with laws restricting unionization. (Reuters)

🏠 Mapping the benefits of clean heat: A map of how U.S. homes are heated shows that conservative areas of the country stand to gain the most from Biden administration incentives for clean heating technology. (Washington Post)

🌎 Young Republicans want climate solutions: While culture wars dominated the annual Conservative Political Action Conference last week, young attendees urged party leaders to come up with a plan to deal with climate change and stop overusing the word “woke.” (Rolling Stone)

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Dan has two decades' experience working in print, digital and broadcast media. Prior to joining the Energy News Network as managing editor in December 2017, he oversaw watchdog reporting at the Sioux Falls Argus Leader, part of the USA Today Network, and before that spent several years as a freelance journalist covering energy, business and technology. Dan is a former Midwest Energy News journalism fellow and a member of Investigative Reporters and Editors. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and mass communications from University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.