Is Hydrogen Aviation’s Clean Fuel for the Near Future?
By Michael J. Dyment, NEXA Capital Partners LLC
Is hydrogen aviation’s clean fuel for the near future? As the world struggles to combat global warming, the Biden Administration’s $1.2T infrastructure bill and Aviation Climate Action Plan, as well as the UN COP26 climate discussions, indicate the answer is “Yes.”
Summary of Recent Federal Legislation or Policies for VFS eVTOL Hydrogen Council, Nov. 15, 2021 [pdf]
On Nov. 5, 2021, the US House of Representatives approved a $1.2T infrastructure spending bill that will make historic investments in core infrastructure priorities, including roads and bridges, rail, airports, the electric grid, electric vehicles and broadband internet. The 2,702-page “Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act” (HR 3684) opens federal funding to non-traditional infrastructure needs such as hydrogen fuels. Highlights worth mention begin with the fact that the word “hydrogen” was referred to 178 times throughout the bill, considerably more than topics such as charging stations (118 times). The legislation calls for the development of a sector-by-sector national strategy and roadmap to facilitate a clean hydrogen economy. Explicit mention calls for expansion of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF), as well as hydrogen-carrier fuels such as methanol.
Some $65B in funds are committed for grid reliability and resiliency, and supply chains for clean energy technology. Carbon capture is specifically identified and targeted. The bill provides $9.5B for clean hydrogen research and development (R&D) programs. It re-establishes and expands the scope of the Department of Energy’s hydrogen research and development program to advance cross-cutting R&D for purposes of demonstration and commercialization of clean hydrogen production, processing, delivery and end-use application technologies.
Another section authorizes $8B for development of at least four “regional clean hydrogen hubs” to demonstrate the production, processing, delivery, storage and end-use of clean hydrogen. At least one hub will demonstrate hydrogen in transportation and can include aviation.
The legislation authorizes $500M for a clean hydrogen manufacturing and recycling program to support a clean hydrogen domestic supply chain. Another $1B will be spent on a demonstration, commercialization and deployment program intended to decrease the cost of clean hydrogen production from electrolyzers.
In related news, on Nov. 13 international negotiators closed a deal-setting rules for carbon markets at the United Nations COP26 climate talks, potentially unlocking trillions of dollars for protecting forests, building renewable energy facilities and other projects to combat climate change. The final deal adopted by nearly 200 countries will implement Article 6 of the 2015 Paris Agreement, allowing countries to partially meet their climate targets by buying offset credits representing emission cuts by others.
The Biden Administration’s Aviation Climate Action Plan (ACAP), issued on Nov. 9, 2021, was part of the larger announcement at COP26 of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions from the US aviation sector by 2050. ACAP encourages electrification, possibly using hydrogen, as solutions for short-haul aviation. It also fosters production of SAF fuels by the energy sector, considers approaches to decarbonization to replace petroleum-based fuels, including electrification, hydrogen fuel and sustainable liquid fuels (e.g. methanol). Finally, it stresses international initiatives such as the airplane CO2 standard and the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA).