Ossoff, Johnson introduce bills to advance hydrogen fuel for aviation

A rendering of Airbus' hydrogen-powered concept planes. The company is aiming to develop a zero-emissions plane that could enter commercial service by 2035.(Airbus/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

A rendering of Airbus' hydrogen-powered concept planes. The company is aiming to develop a zero-emissions plane that could enter commercial service by 2035.(Airbus/TNS)

U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff and U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson introduced bills Friday to allow the use of federal funding to develop hydrogen fuel for aviation and to study the potential benefits.

Ossoff, D-Georgia, co-sponsored two bills in the Senate with U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina. The bills would make hydrogen energy funding eligible for federal aviation grant programs and would commission a study by the Federal Aviation Administration and the Department of Energy to establish hydrogen aviation policies.

The legislation, if passed, could benefit companies in Georgia that are pursuing the development of hydrogen fuel for aviation.

Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines voiced support for the legislation, with the airline’s Chief Sustainability Officer Pam Fletcher saying the company views hydrogen “as an essential technology to unlock now for the future of travel.”

Delta has partnered with Airbus as an advisor to the aircraft manufacturer in its efforts to develop hydrogen-powered aircraft.

Georgia Tech has also researched hydrogen-powered aircraft and is part of a NASA project studying hydrogen fuel for aviation.

“Aviation is far and away the hardest industry sector to decarbonize,” said Tim Lieuwen, executive director of Georgia Tech’s Strategic Energy Institute, in a written statement. He added that “it behooves us to also make the longer-range investments that may ultimately enable game-changing capabilities for zero carbon aviation.”

LanzaJet, a sustainable fuels company that is building a plant in Soperton, Georgia, also voiced support for the legislation and said hydrogen is a key input for the production of its sustainable aviation fuel.

LanzaJet CEO Jimmy Samartzis said in a written statement that the legislation also supports rural economic development opportunities from sustainable aviation fuel plants planned in rural areas.

Ossoff, in a written statement, called hydrogen energy “a promising opportunity to create Georgia jobs, strengthen American energy security, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in multiple sectors, including transportation,” He said the bill brings Republicans and Democrats together to “strengthen research and innovation of hydrogen as a next-generation fuel for the aviation sector.”

Graham said in a written statement that the legislation “aims to empower manufacturers and agencies to consider various power solutions including hydrogen.”

Johnson, D-Lithonia, introduced a House version of the Hydrogen Aviation Strategy Act on Friday, which would require the FAA and Department of Energy to set goals related to hydrogen aviation, study the effect of hydrogen on efforts to decarbonize aviation and set up an advisory committee for recommendations on the adaption of hydrogen, among other measures.

Hydrogen has been hyped for years as an energy source that could help the aviation sector and other hard-to-decarbonize parts of the global economy wean off fossil fuels. While it is the most abundant element in the universe, hydrogen rarely exists on its own on Earth. To be used as a fuel, it needs to be isolated from other compounds that contain it.

But its climate impact hinges on how it’s produced and used.

So-called “green” or “clean” hydrogen is produced using renewable energy, but over 90% of the hydrogen produced today is derived from fossil fuels. That process requires lots of energy and still results in emissions of carbon dioxide and methane, an ultra-potent greenhouse gas.

Hydrogen is already used in a limited capacity to fuel some vehicles, and utilities — including Georgia Power — have experimented with blending it in with natural gas burned in power plants for electricity.

Most major environmental groups have hedged their support for hydrogen as a climate change solution. But the Department of Energy (DOE) is pouring money into advancing hydrogen production and distribution.

The agency’s ambitious “Hydrogen Shot” initiative is seeking to slash the cost of hydrogen by 80% in the next decade to make it a more cost-effective energy source for industry. Just this week, the DOE released a roadmap for advancing the country’s hydrogen economy, which the administration projects could create 100,000 jobs.

With $8 billion from the federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the DOE plans to fund several “hydrogen hubs” around the country. Efforts are already underway to bring one of those to Georgia. Ossoff, along with other elected officials, utilities and businesses, are part of a coalition announced last year that’s aiming to land a federal grant to create a hub in the Southeast.

The aviation industry is busy developing other potential alternative fuels, in Georgia and other locations.

A company that turns wood residue into jet fuel received an $80 million grant from the DOE earlier this year to build a larger fuel production facility 60 miles southwest of Macon.

Johnson noted in a written statement that decarbonizing aviation is one of the biggest challenges facing the industry.

“The journey to zero emissions in commercial air travel won’t be easy, but hydrogen could be a key player in helping us get there,” Johnson said.