Georgia, with its rise in EV and solar manufacturing, has already set the stage for significant hydrogen research in the years ahead. Hyundai Motor Group and Georgia Tech have signed a partnership to develop new technologies. The state of Georgia and Hyundai are studying a hydrogen trucking corridor from the Savannah port to the future $7.6 billion EV manufacturing center, known as the Metaplant, in Bryan County.
Many in Georgia had high hopes those initiatives — and the Peach State’s status as one of the top swing states in the upcoming 2024 presidential election — might have added some political juice to Georgia’s bid, after Biden narrowly won the state three years ago.
A few of the projects selected are in key swing states (Pennsylvania and Michigan), but only one will be located in the Sun Belt (Houston), the fastest-growing region of the country.
The huge amount of funding spawned a hyper-competitive bidding process, with 79 projects initially joining the sweepstakes. Earlier this year, the DOE whittled the list down to 33 finalists.
Georgia threw its hat into the ring last June, when U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff and a group of Georgia business, academic and political leaders wrote Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, advocating a project in the Peach State.
Soon after, a group of the Southeast’s largest utilities — including Georgia Power and its parent, Southern Company — formally bid in April to bring a hub to the region. The coalition included Georgia among the proposed locations.
Meanwhile, Georgia’s business and political leaders were already exploring hydrogen’s potential.
Last year, for the first time, Georgia Power successfully tested burning a blend of natural gas and hydrogen at Plant McDonough in Smyrna. In January, Ossoff and Tim Echols, the Republican vice chairman of the Georgia Public Service Commission, convened a bipartisan hydrogen “brain trust” to help the state capitalize on new public and private funding for hydrogen.
Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
The hubs will serve as the nerve centers for the DOE’s efforts to rapidly scale up the use of hydrogen for industrial, residential and transportation uses.
Despite the snub from the DOE, Southern Company spokesman Schuyler Baehman said in a statement that the company is still bullish on hydrogen’s potential.
“As an industry leader in research and development, we will continue investing in hydrogen projects that advance a hydrogen ecosystem that holistically serves customer needs with clean energy,” Baehman said.
PSC Commissioner Tim Echols said the bipartisan hydrogen braintrust he co-founded will continue to explore hydrogen and other alternative fuel solutions in the state.
Hydrogen has been hyped for years as key tool for fighting climate change that could help trucking and other hard-to-decarbonize parts of the global economy — like cement and steel manufacturing, and aviation — 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 must be isolated from compounds that contain it. But exactly how the element is separated determines how clean the hydrogen really is.
“Green” hydrogen is produced using renewable energy, but more than 90% of the hydrogen produced today is derived from natural gas. That process requires lots of energy and still results in emissions of carbon dioxide and methane, an ultra-potent greenhouse gas.
Some are skeptical about whether hydrogen will be the clean energy savior it is purported to be, with cost among the chief concerns.
The agency is seeking to lower that barrier through its “Hydrogen Shot” initiative, which aims to slash the price of hydrogen by 80% in the next decade. The DOE has also released a roadmap for advancing the country’s hydrogen economy, which the administration projects could create 100,000 jobs.
Georgia’s swing and miss on the DOE funding likely won’t spell the end of its hydrogen ambitions.
President Biden’s signature climate and health law, the Inflation Reduction Act, also includes generous production tax incentives for “green” hydrogen. It’s possible Georgia companies could try to capitalize on those credits, but the Internal Revenue Service has not issued guidance for them yet.
Tim Lieuwen, the executive director of Georgia Tech’s Strategic Energy Institute, said Georgia missing out on the funding was “disappointing,” but added that the university is moving ahead with hydrogen research on several fronts. Georgia Tech and Hyundai recently announced a partnership to develop hydrogen-fueled engines for large trucks and hydrogen fuel cell batteries. With the help of DOE funding, the university also continues to work on other significant alternative energy projects.
“I think the overall story is quite positive and we have so much momentum,” he said.
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