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It seems like only yesterday that a mysterious new program called Energy Earthshots was in the works for the US Department of Energy, and everybody was wondering what that could possibly be. The curtain has now lifted and the answer is clean hydrogen. If you’re thinking why clean hydrogen and not green hydrogen, that’s a good question. The answer could make fossil energy stakeholders very happy or very, very sad.

Green Hydrogen Vs. Clean Hydrogen

For those of you new to the topic, hydrogen is the cornerstone of the modern industrial economy. The booming market for hydrogen fuel cells is just one slice of a huge chemical pie that includes agriculture, food processing, and refining, among other areas.

The problem is that almost the entire global supply of hydrogen comes from natural gas and coal.

However, not for long. Low-cost renewable energy has fostered a rosier economic outlook for new and more sustainable hydrogen sources, aka green hydrogen. Most of the activity is concentrated in the field of electrolysis, which refers to systems that deploy electricity to tease bubbles of hydrogen gas out of water.

This is what is known as green hydrogen. Other renewable hydrogen sources include biomass, biogas, municipal wastewater, and municipal solid waste.

The idea of producing hydrogen from reclaimed industrial gasses and plastic waste is also catching on. That’s more sustainable than using virgin natural gas or coal to produce hydrogen, though much of the foundational feedstock is still fossil-based and not renewable.

Then there’s a public relations gimmick cooked up by fossil energy stakeholders, in which you still produce hydrogen from natural gas or coal, but you hook it up to a carbon capture system and call it “blue” hydrogen, which supposedly translates into “clean” hydrogen.

I know, right? We think so, too.

So What Is It, Green Hydrogen Or Clean Hydrogen?

All else being equal, the “clean hydrogen” referred to in the new Energy Earthshots initiative could include support for fossil-sourced hydrogen with carbon capture, as well as reclaimed hydrogen from wastes.

However, last week CleanTechnica eyeballed the Biden administration’s FY 2022 budget proposal, and we took a quick look back the Energy Department’s green hydrogen initiatives during the administration of former President and accused insurrectionist Donald Trump, and then we connected the dots to current Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm’s pronouncements about renewable hydrogen earlier this year, and our conclusion is that when Energy Earthshots says clean hydrogen, they may be leaving a bit of wiggle room for fossil sources, but probably not all that much.

Get Ready For The Hydrogen Shot

The name “Earthshots Initiative” is a play on the successful 20th century Moonshot venture that shot US astronauts into space before anybody else got there, and the Energy Department’s early 21st century Sunshot Initiative, which launched during the Obama administration with the goal of bringing down the cost of solar power.

Energy Earthshots aims to replicate that all-hands-on-deck frenzy of collaborative innovation to tackle the energy challenges of the early mid-century period, which will make or break the ability of humankind to save itself from catastrophic climate change.

The Energy Earthshots Initiative aims to “accelerate breakthroughs of more abundant, affordable, and reliable clean energy solutions within the decade,” the Energy Department explained in a press release on Monday.

Skeptics were and still are laughing off the idea of the hydrogen economy of the future, but the Energy Department is a big fan and they just clapped back bigly when they picked hydrogen as the very first focus of the new Energy Earthshots initiative.

“The first Energy Earthshot — Hydrogen Shot — seeks to reduce the cost of clean hydrogen by 80% to $1 per kilogram in one decade,” the Energy Department said. “Achieving these targets will help America tackle the climate crisis, and more quickly reach the Biden-Harris Administration’s goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 while creating good-paying, union jobs and growing the economy.”

“Clean hydrogen is a game changer. It will help decarbonize high-polluting heavy-duty and industrial sectors, while delivering good-paying clean energy jobs and realizing a net-zero economy by 2050,” Secretary Granholm added.

Here’s the money quote from the press release:

“By achieving Hydrogen Shot’s 80% cost reduction goal, we can unlock a five-fold increase in demand by increasing clean hydrogen production from pathways such as renewables, nuclear, and thermal conversion. This would create more clean energy jobs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and position America to compete in the clean energy market on a global scale.”

Fossil-Sourced Hydrogen With Carbon Capture, Or Maybe Not

If you caught that thing about renewables and nuclear, that’s a reference to electrolysis, meaning green hydrogen. There is also something called thermochemical conversion, which deploys high heat from nuclear or concentrating solar plants to split hydrogen from water, but that seems a bit too early-stagey to fit into the Hydrogen Shot timeline. The other option is thermal conversion, which generally refers to steam reformation and other processes that apply to natural gas and coal, meaning not green hydrogen.

The Hydrogen Shot Request for Information emphasizes diverse energy sources in the US, and it specifically mentions fossil energy plus carbon capture for ramping up hydrogen production, so it looks like fossil energy stakeholders have something to cheer about after all.

Or, maybe not. Climate action has become a mainstream business model. It’s a good bet that the market for fossil-sourced hydrogen will shrink as the supply of sustainable hydrogen grows, carbon capture or not.

The Energy Department’s RFI appears to recognize that the private sector is already leaning towards green hydrogen. Despite the nod to fossil-sourced hydrogen, the agency highlights green hydrogen in a shortlist of major projects currently under way:

“… hydrogen production, storage, and end use in turbines through the $1 billion Advanced Clean Energy Storage project in Utah; a 5 MW electrolyzer project planned in Washington State; first-of-a -kind nuclear-to-hydrogen projects in multiple states; a 20 MW electrolyzer plant to produce hydrogen from solar power in Florida; and the first GW-scale factory for electrolyzers announced in New York, with a 120 MW electrolyzer soon to be installed.”

If you can spot the thermal conversion project in that list, drop us a note in the comment thread (hint: there is none).

But What About Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles?

Yes, what about them? Hydrogen Shot is not taking aim at the hydrogen fuel cell passenger car and SUV markets, though Toyota and a small but growing list of automakers have been pitching the idea (for the record, the growing list includes Hyundai, Jaguar Land Rover, and most recently, BMW).

Instead, Hydrogen Shot is focusing on long haul trucks and other heavy applications. That could include locomotives as well as hydrogen aircraft and hydrogen watercraft.

Green hydrogen has already been incorporated into much of the planning for transportation applications, so it’s no surprise that green hydrogen producers are already jockeying to compete for business.

In the latest development on that score, the firm SGH2 Energy is pitching a “greener than green” hydrogen product that draws from biomass and other bio-based waste. The company claims that its green H2 displaces more carbon than both electrolysis-based process as well as thermal conversion, so hold on to your hats.

Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.

Image: Hydrogen production from various sources courtesy of US Department of Energy.


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BIDIRECTIONAL Act introduced in US Senate to promote electric school buses feeding grid

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BIDIRECTIONAL Act introduced in US Senate to promote electric school buses feeding grid

A new bill introduced Friday by US Senator Angus King of Maine could unlock the true potential of electric school buses and provide stability to communities in need. The BIDIRECTIONAL Act would “create a program dedicated to deploying electric school buses with bidirectional vehicle-to-grid (V2G) flow capability.”

Zero-emission electric school buses are being deployed nationwide as state leaders and school districts look to protect the children and communities they vow to serve. New information shows school districts that replace just one diesel school bus with an electric one can reduce toxic emissions by 54,000 pounds a year.

However, the benefits of electric school buses don’t stop there. The massive batteries they utilize also make perfect energy storage devices. Several automakers and charging companies are experimenting with vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology that enables vehicles to send energy back to the grid.

Manufacturers of electric pickup trucks (like the Ford F-150) and other EVs have dived into bi-directional charging, but this technology makes even more sense for electric school buses because they have large batteries that sit most of the day. To illustrate this point, Thomas Built Buses partnered with Proterra to show two electric school buses can send 10 MWh total back to the grid, enough to power around 600 homes.

Senator King wants to capitalize on this ability with the BIDIRECTIONAL Act to promote the widespread deployment of electric school buses with V2G capability to improve community stability.

electric-school-buses-v2g-1
Electric school bus with V2G capabilities Source: Proterra

The BIDIRECTIONAL Act is designed to accelerate adoption of EV school buses while using them for more than just a ride to school.

According to Senator King, the BIDIRECTIONAL Act will:

  • Establish a Department of Energy (DOE) program to roll out electric school buses designed with V2G capabilities in communities that need them most.
  • Require the DOE to report on current V2G initiatives (such as Thomas Built and Proterra) while also requiring electricity providers to consider bi-directional integration.

Senator King commented on the initiative, stating:

Vehicle-to-grid school buses are another common sense tool that can help to create a reliable grid, promote clean energy, and cut costs for local towns and school districts.

Adding:

The BIDIRECTIONAL Act will assist school districts across Maine and America transition to electric buses and make sure these vehicles provide greater stability to their communities. Combined with electric bus investments in the Inflation Reduction Act, this will be an important step towards unlocking America’s clean energy future. It’s a simple, win-win bill and I hope it can get bipartisan support across Congress.

Several major electric school bus makers and other organizations are backing the bill, such as Blue Bird, Highland Electric, Lion Electric, Nuuve, Proterra, and Xcel Energy.

Electrek’s Take

Electric school buses with V2G are a no-brainer. Not only will they reduce greenhouse gas emissions, protecting the communities they serve, but they can also play a key role in providing energy stability to communities in need.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) just announced it would be nearly doubling EPA clean school bus program funding to $965 million in its initial round . Federal funding is a huge first step, but strong state leadership is also necessary if these clean machines are going to become widely adopted. Virginia, for example, just surpassed 500,000 electric school bus miles driven thanks to a state initiative to roll out 13,0000 electric school buses in 2019. They now have the nation’s second largest fleet of electric school buses.

I believe Senator King is wise in proposing this bill. I truly believe electric school buses have unlimited potential waiting to be unlocked, and the BIDIRECTIONAL Act can do just that.

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Could offshore wind sites host edible seaweed farms? The Swedes think so

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Could offshore wind sites host edible seaweed farms? The Swedes think so

Stockholm-headquartered renewable energy developer OX2 has signed letters of intent with Swedish edible seaweed companies Nordic SeaFarm and KOBB to explore the possibility of seaweed farming at one of OX2’s offshore wind farms.

Seaweed and offshore wind

OX2’s Galatea-Galene huge 1.7 gigawatt offshore wind farm will be sited off Halland, a county on the western coast of Sweden. It’s named after two Greek sea nymphs, Galatea and Galene, and consists of two sub-areas around 15.5 miles (25 km) outside the cities of Falkenberg and Varberg.

Galatea-Galene is expected to consist of up to 101 wind turbines and generate around 6 to 7 terawatt-hours of clean electricity per year. That’s the equivalent of the average annual electricity consumption of more than 1.2 million Swedish households. (There are 4.8 million households in Sweden, for perspective.)

This offshore wind farm will be developed in a single phase. Construction is expected to commence in 2028 and enter into commercial operation in 2030.

Simon Johansson, CEO of Nordic SeaFarm, and Benjamin Ajo, chairman of the board of KOBB, said in a joint statement [via Offshorewind.biz]:

We see great opportunities, in collaboration with both the fishing industry and the wind power industry, to both maintain and create new jobs when we investigate the possibilities of creating a new industry in Sweden in the form of large-scale aquaculture.

Developing the national food supply while [offshore wind] farms contribute to stopping the negative effects of climate change are more positive aspects.

All seaweed needs to grow is saltwater and sunlight. It’s a superfood that’s rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants, and particularly high in iodine, so it’s very nutritious. (Note that crispy seaweed in Chinese restaurants is actually cabbage.)

It can be used to wrap sushi, in soups and salads, in snacks and instant noodles, and as livestock food.

Seaweed also provides a source of food for marine life. In April, Electrek reported that a groundbreaking study found that the first US offshore wind farm has had no negative effect on fish and has even proven to be beneficial.

Here’s a short video from Nordic SeaFarm that shows how the company grows and harvests seaweed for consumption:

Electrek’s Take

Pairing seaweed farms and offshore wind farms seems like an inspired idea.

Seaweed’s ability to absorb toxins and other contaminants from the sea make it environmentally friendly, but that’s not what humans want to consume. That’s where seaweed growers come in: they test the seaweed for safety and quality.

Any multipurpose sustainable use of an offshore wind farm, particularly one that provides both clean energy and nutritious food that doesn’t require either fertilizer or fresh water to grow, is a win. It’s also another example of innovation that the clean energy revolution is bringing about in the climate change fight.

Read more: This new innovation boosts wind farm energy output yet costs nothing


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EPA doubles electric school bus funding to almost $1B after overwhelming initial demand

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EPA doubles electric school bus funding to almost B after overwhelming initial demand

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced Thursday that the agency will almost double its funding for electric school buses to close to $1 billion after school districts from all 50 states applied for rebates.

Electric school buses are quickly taking over streets around the US as school districts and state leaders see how they can benefit the communities they serve in.

According to Dominion Energy, a power provider promoting the use of EVs for a cleaner and sustainable future, replacing one diesel bus can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 54,000 pounds annually.

With help from Dominion’s initiatives, the second largest electric bus fleet in the US just crossed 500,000 service miles. By implementing EV buses, Virginia school districts were able to avoid 447.7 short tons of greenhouse gases.

These toxic fumes are known to creep into the bus’s interior while the bus is idling, harming the health of students taking them every day. A 2002 Yale study found dangerous particle levels were five to ten times higher while buses were stopped.

Although new standards have come along since then, it’s still not enough to limit the exposure when you can cut it out altogether.

Not only do electric school buses produce zero emissions, but they can also save school districts money on fuel and repair costs in the long run. For example, The Modesto Unified School District in California, which ordered 30 Blue Bird EV school buses, expects to save $250,000 a year on fuel.

With federal and many state funding options, there’s never been a better time to convert to an all-electric school bus fleet.

Electric-school-buses-US-1
Lion Electric EV school buses Source: Lion Electric

EPA doubles funding for electric school bus fleets across the US

The EPA Clean School Bus Program, part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, provides $5 billion in funding for electric school buses through the next five years.

The first round of funding, announced in May, was supposed to free up $500 million, but after overwhelming demand from school districts across all 50 states, the EPA will now be almost doubling it to $965 million.

The EPA received about 2,000 applications, amounting to nearly $4 billion in funding, with over 90% submitting for zero-emission electric school buses. Sue Gander, director of the electric school bus initiative at the World Resources Institute, highlights the demand for fully electric options, claiming:

There’s more to the story. The overwhelming demand for electric school buses, over any other fuel type, is striking. Applicants across the country chose electric buses over propane at a rate of 10 to 1. There’s no doubt we’re entering a new, electric era in student transportation, one with massive benefits for our kids’ health, climate and the economy.

With requests for over eight times the initial funding round, EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan said on the program’s success thus far:

America’s school districts delivered this message loud and clear – we must replace older, dirty diesel school buses. Together, we can reduce climate pollution, improve air quality, and reduce the risk of health impacts like asthma for as many as 25 million children who ride the bus every day.

The EPA said it’s “moving swiftly” to review applications and expects the list of winning applicants to be released in October 2022. Applicants will be selected through a lottery-based system.

Another $1 billion round of funding for electric school buses will be in the Fiscal Year 2023, according to the EPA. The agency plans the next funding program to launch in the next few months, including a grant competition.

However, more may need to be done. Senator Carper, chair of the senate committee on environmental and public works, talks about the need for further funding, saying:

Given the response to the availability of these dollars, it’s clear that more funding is needed. I look forward to working with Administrator Regan, the rest of the Biden Administration, and my colleagues in Congress to build on this progress so that more communities can realize the clean air and energy saving benefits of these cleaner vehicles.

Will we have access to more funding for electric school buses? Time will tell. If the initial demand is any indication, school districts are ready and willing. It’s time to get the funding to make it happen.

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