Pittsburgh Region Gets State Push for Possible Hydrogen Hub

by Michael Machosky


May 17, 2022

When you think of clean energy, you think of wind, solar, geothermal, hydrogen, right  — ?

Wait, what was that last one — ?

Expect to hear a lot about hydrogen soon. Recently, Governor Tom Wolf announced that he’s leading a broad bipartisan coalition of energy, industry (including heavyweights like Shell and U.S. Steel), organized labor and nonprofits to push for industrial decarbonization. A potential key to cleaning up Western PA’s vast industrial sector — a major source of pollution and greenhouse gas emissions — could be the development of clean hydrogen, as well as carbon capture, utilization and storage technologies.

To do that, they’re planning to apply for one of four Regional Clean Hydrogen Hubs funded by $8 billion in the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Two Hubs must be in regions with natural gas resources (like Pennsylvania).

“As governor of Pennsylvania, I have long prioritized energy policy that moves us towards a cleaner energy future, while also creating good paying energy sector jobs,” says Gov. Wolf. “As a national leader in energy and manufacturing…Pennsylvania is primed for this opportunity to lead the transition to a new energy ecosystem in which fuels like hydrogen play a central role in both our economic success as well as achieving our decarbonization goals.”

A Regional Clean Hydrogen Hub and its associated infrastructure would theoretically use natural gas to create hydrogen, which could be sent through pipelines as a fuel.

So many of Pittsburgh’s legacy industries, like steel and energy, are hard to decarbonize. The industrial sector accounts for up to a third of carbon emissions nationwide.

“Clean hydrogen is key to cleaning up American manufacturing and slashing emissions from carbon-intensive materials like steel and cement while creating good-paying jobs for American workers,” says U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm. “We're seeking feedback from the American public on how to make scaling up this clean, affordable energy source a reality for the United States.”  

Hydrogen plays a big part in the U.S. Department of Energy’s strategy for achieving President Biden’s goal of a 100% clean electrical grid by 2035 and net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The governor and 24 industry, labor and environmental stakeholders signed onto a declaration signaling their commitment to help create a regional ecosystem to achieve decarbonization — which includes transitioning to clean hydrogen — and make the Commonwealth competitive for attracting investment and creating jobs.

However, there’s already opposition to the proposal among some environmental groups, like the Pittsburgh-based Breathe Project.

“We know doubling down on fossil-fuel-based infrastructure only puts fossil fuel special interests first,” says Matt Mehalik, executive director of the Breathe Project. “We have been hearing excuses about gas as a bridge fuel for over a decade. It's time that we are across that bridge to renewable energy, not fossil fuel band-aids.”

The Department of Energy is seeking comments from stakeholders as it decides how the money will be distributed.


Michael Machosky is a regular contributor for The Green Voice