White House poised to announce winners of competition to produce hydrogen fuel

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FILE - A 2021 Toyota Prius that runs on a hydrogen fuel cell sits on display at the Denver auto show on Sept. 17, 2021, at Elitch's Gardens in downtown Denver. The White House is set to announce that it has selected the Philadelphia area and West Virginia for two regional hubs to produce and deliver hydrogen fuel, a key part of its clean energy plan, according to a person familiar with the plan. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

HARRISBURG, Pa. – The White House is poised to announce the winners of a $7 billion federal competition to produce and deliver hydrogen fuel, with the Philadelphia area and West Virginia among those selected, according to a person familiar with the program.

President Joe Biden is expected to make the official announcement during an economic-themed visit to Philadelphia on Friday.

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There were 23 finalists for the hydrogen fuel program, a key component of the president's clean energy plan.

Among those selected are the Appalachian Regional Clean Hydrogen Hub, based in West Virginia, and the Philadelphia-area Mid-Atlantic Clean Hydrogen Hub, according to the person briefed on the plan. The person was not authorized to publicly discuss the selection before Biden's appearance and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Pennsylvania, a presidential battleground state of the highest importance to Biden in next year’s election, is in line to benefit from both the West Virginia-based hub and the Philadelphia-area hub, which includes Biden’s home state of Delaware.

Biden has made Philadelphia a regular stop for both official and campaign events, and partners in the proposed Philadelphia-area hub have labor unions that are key endorsers of Biden’s. The West Virginia-based hub includes major Pittsburgh-based natural gas companies that are active in the region’s prolific Marcellus Shale reservoir, as well as an upstate facility that is working on producing hydrogen from natural gas.

The infrastructure law signed by Biden in 2021 included billions of dollars for a program to establish six to 10 regional “hydrogen hubs.” The aim is to help industry replace fossil fuels such as coal and oil, which produce planet-warming greenhouse gases, with cleaner-burning hydrogen as an energy source for vehicles, manufacturing and generating electricity.

States and businesses have been competing for federal dollars in a new Energy Department program that will create regional networks of hydrogen producers, consumers and infrastructure. The intent is to accelerate the availability and use of the colorless, odorless gas that already powers some vehicles and trains.

The Appalachian Regional Clean Hydrogen Hub, or ARCH2, is a partnership involving the state of West Virginia and EQT, the nation’s largest natural gas producer, among others. They say their region has enormous gas resources and could produce hydrogen from methane using heat, steam and pressure while capturing the carbon dioxide it would generate.

The Mid-Atlantic Clean Hydrogen Hub, or MACH2, is supported by supported by Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, as well as Philadelphia-area labor unions, university researchers and refineries. They say the goal is to be as climate-friendly as possible by making hydrogen through electrolysis — splitting water molecules using renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power, as well as nuclear power.

Nearly every state has joined at least one proposed hub, and many are working together, hoping to reap the economic development and thousands of jobs they would bring. Big fossil fuel companies, renewable energy developers and researchers in university and government labs are involved, too.

The Energy Department says the hubs will produce “clean” hydrogen, although its definition includes hydrogen produced with natural gas. Gas companies have talked about mixing hydrogen at low concentrations with methane for delivery to homes and businesses.

Many experts consider hydrogen “clean” only if made through electrolysis. But some oil and gas companies say they can use fossil fuels as feedstocks if they capture the carbon dioxide and keep it out of the atmosphere.

Environmental groups are skeptical, arguing that while hydrogen is a clean-burning source of power, it takes a great deal of energy to produce. When it’s made with electricity from coal or natural gas, it has a bigger carbon footprint than simply burning the source fuel.

“Hydrogen is another bait and switch from an administration that continues to break its promises to aggressively tackle climate change and help communities achieve a just, equitable transition to renewable energy,” said Silas Grant, a campaigner with the environmental group Center for Biological Diversity.


Associated Press writer Matthew Daly in Washington contributed to this report.


CORRECTS Grant's first name to Silas, not Soni


Follow Marc Levy at https://twitter.com/timelywriter and Matthew Daly at https://twitter.com/MatthewDalyWDC

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