A ‘game-changer’: State seeks federal grants to go all in on green hydrogen

Could hydrogen be the solution to Hawaii's fossil fuels problem?
Published: Jun. 1, 2023 at 7:46 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - As part its plan to reduce Hawaii’s dependence on fossil fuels, the state is making a big bet on green hydrogen.

It’s one of dozens of states and regions vying for federal funding under the U.S. Department of Energy’s Regional Clean Hydrogen Hub program.

“It’s a game-changer,” Mark Glick, chief energy officer for the state Energy Office, said of the DOE grants.

“It just accelerates the time frame that we can realistically look at hydrogen here in Hawaii.”

Hydrogen cars have been on Hawaii’s roads for several years.

And last year, the Big Island began using hydrogen fuel cell electric buses on some of it routes.

But in order for the fledgling hydrogen industry to thrive, it needs to develop the infrastructure to support it.

Just as electric cars need charging stations, hydrogen cars need places to fuel up, places to store the hydrogen and companies to produce it.

While hydrogen won’t replace dominant renewable energy sources like wind, solar and geothermal, advocates say it can be used to supplement those technologies as part of the state’s renewable energy agenda.

Clean energy companies see a big opportunity.

AES Corp. — now the largest solar producer in the state — has expressed interest in building a green hydrogen production center here.

“That will be an important a fuel for the renewable transition worldwide. Hawaii is not an exception,” Bernerd Da Santo, president of AES Global Renewables, said during a news conference last month.

State Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz is a proponent of using geothermal energy to produce hydrogen.

“There are a lot of opportunities, not just to ensure energy security for Hawaii, but also to export ... green hydrogen,” he said.

Green hydrogen is created by using energy produced by the sun, wind or geothermal to separate hydrogen from water without producing greenhouse gases.

(Other forms of hydrogen used in manufacturing such as brown, grey or blue hydrogen use fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas to produce hydrogen.)

Because it can be stored in canisters and tanks, green hydrogen is easy to transport from island to island.

By contrast, wind farms on Lanai and solar farms on the Big Island require an undersea cable to export their energy off island.

The last time the state looked at building an undersea cable about a decade ago, the price tag was about $1 billion.

But some say the technology is still too expensive.

“Hydrogen is difficult. It has a high cost right now. That’s why it’s not used. It’s has storage complications, it needs low temperatures and high pressures,” said Henry Curtis, executive director of the Life of the land.

Curtis said the cost of a hydrogen fuel cell is more expensive than a battery on an electric vehicle.

But advocates predict that those costs will go down as usage goes up and the technology becomes more common place.