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U.S. Department of Energy Releases its Hydrogen Program Plan

U.S. Department of Energy Hydrogen Program Plan

On November 12, 2020, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) released its Hydrogen Program Plan (Plan) to provide a strategic framework for the its hydrogen research, development and demonstration (RD&D) activities.

Realizing the true potential for hydrogen requires a commitment to continued research and development, as well as ramping up demonstrations and deployments with the private sector to achieve scale.  Unlike other fuels, hydrogen requires more integration of fossil, nuclear, and renewable energy systems, and it will take an integrated approach from all energy sectors to realize the full potential and benefits of hydrogen.

The DOE Hydrogen Program is a coordinated effort to advance the affordable production, transport, storage and use of hydrogen across different sectors of the economy.  The Plan involves participation from the U.S. Offices of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Fossil Energy, Nuclear Energy, Electricity, Science, and the Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy.

“Hydrogen is an exciting fuel source that has the potential to integrate our nation’s energy resources, but to fully recognize its potential across the economy, we need to lower costs and see a significant increase in hydrogen supply and demand,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette. “This administration is excited by the Department-wide efforts and collaborations outlined in this Plan that will address these issues and help secure hydrogen as an option in the nation’s energy future.”

The Plan serves as the overarching document to set the strategic direction of the Hydrogen Program, and to complement the technical and programmatic multi-year plans from each DOE Office engaging in hydrogen RD&D activities.

“For decades, DOE has supported the development of technologies to complement the production of hydrogen fuel from our traditional sources,” noted Deputy Secretary of Energy Mark W. Menezes. “The RD&D activities outlined in the Plan will contribute to this important DOE-wide effort to support our all-of-the-above energy strategy.”

The Hydrogen Program Plan reinforces DOE’s commitment to develop the technologies that can enable hydrogen expansion in the United States, and highlights the importance of collaboration both within DOE and with stakeholders in industry, academia, and the states to achieve that goal.

Learn more about the DOE Hydrogen Program Plan.

This version of the Plan updates and expands upon previous versions including the Hydrogen Posture Plan and the DOE Hydrogen and Fuel Cells Program Plan, and provides a coordinated high-level summary of hydrogen related activities across DOE.

The 2006 Hydrogen Posture Plan fulfilled the requirement in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPACT 2005) that the Energy Secretary transmit to Congress a coordinated plan for DOE’s hydrogen and fuel cell activities.

For historical context, the original Posture Plan, issued in 2004, outlined a coordinated plan for DOE and the U.S. Department of Transportation to meet the goals of the Hydrogen Fuel Initiative (HFI) and implement the 2002 National Hydrogen Energy Technology Roadmap.

The HFI was launched in 2004 to accelerate RD&D of hydrogen and fuel cell technologies for use in transportation, electricity generation, and portable power applications.

The Roadmap provided a blueprint for the public and private efforts required to fulfill a long-term national vision for hydrogen energy, as outlined in A National Vision of America’s Transition to a Hydrogen Economy—to 2030 and Beyond.

Both the Roadmap and the Vision were developed out of meetings involving DOE, industry, academia, non-profit organizations, and other stakeholders.

The Roadmap, the Vision, the Posture Plans, the 2011 Program Plan, and the results of key stakeholder workshops continue to form the underlying basis for this current edition of the Program Plan.

Water-Splitting Technologies

The Plan explores a number of processes that split water into hydrogen and oxygen using electric, thermal, or photonic (light) energy from diverse, sustainable domestic sources (such as solar, wind, nuclear, and others).

Low temperature electrolyzers (including liquid-alkaline and membrane-based electroyzers) that use electricity to split water offer near-term commercial viability, with units available today at the multi-megawatt (MW) scale.

These electrolyzers can be coupled to the electric grid, or integrated directly with distributed-generation assets to produce hydrogen for various end uses.  The cost of hydrogen produced from lowtemperature electrolysis depends strongly on the electricity cost: it currently ranges from $5–$6/kg-H2 for electricity pricing in the $0.05–$0.07/kWh range.48.

The availability of lower-cost electricity— for example, in the $0.02–$0.03/kWh range from emerging wind and solar assets—coupled with ongoing advancements in electrolyzer technologies offers a pathway to cost-competitive hydrogen, at less than $2/kg.49 However, more work is needed to achieve consistent, widely available low-cost and low-carbon electricity, and RD&D is still required to reduce the cost and improve the efficiency and durability of electrolyzers.

High-temperature electrolyzers can leverage both electricity and heat from generation sources such as nuclear, fossil with carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS), or concentrated solar power plants to improve conversion efficiencies, further reducing cost.

Reversible fuel cells, currently under development, combine the functionality of electroyzers and fuel cells, either using electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, or using hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity and water.

Longer-term pathways for direct watersplitting, without the need for electricity, include thermally driven chemical looping processes including solar thermochemical systems, as well as light-driven photoelectrochemical processes.

Ongoing RD&D—at the materials, component, and system levels—will be needed to address efficiency, durability, and cost challenges in all water-splitting processes.