Exclusive: Midwest America looks to hydrogen

Exclusive: Midwest America looks to hydrogen

The use of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles is undoubtably on the rise in the US. Car manufacturers such as Toyota and Hyundai have already begun widespread deployment of their fuel cell vehicles across the country.

The movement towards hydrogen in the US arguably has a focus in the Northern states such as California, however other regions have just as much potential when it comes to the use of the zero-emission fuel.

The Renewable Hydrogen Fuel Cell Collaborative (RHFCC), a collaborative which was started up in 2016 by the Stark Area Regional Transit Authority (SARTA), is aiming to establish the Midwest of America as a national leader in the adoption of hydrogen fuel cell-powered vehicles.

H2 View spoke with Andrew Thomas, Director of the RHFCC to discuss the potential for hydrogen in Midwest America and the role of the RHFCC in the movement.

“SARTA began the RHFCC after it acquired a fleet of hydrogen fuel cell buses through the US Federal Transit Administration Low or No Emission Vehicle programme.”

“The RHFCC seeks to establish the American Midwest as a leader in the adoption of hydrogen fuel cell-powered vehicles through education, advocacy and research. The goal is to take the region and the world closer to a sustainable, zero-emission future.”

In its short lifetime of three years, the RHFCC has already achieved vast amounts for the region, helping push the hydrogen movement. Its relationship with SARTA has helped the collaborative set up numerous projects and relationships with others in the hydrogen sector.

The RHFCC has helped to introduce hydrogen fuel cell bus technology to a range of transit agencies and has published a ‘roadmap’ which sets forward a strategy for the adoption of hydrogen infrastructure in the Midwest.

The Midwest

The deployment of hydrogen vehicles across many locations has arguably been prompted by targets, laws or mandates being put into place, such as the Paris Climate Agreement. The Midwest does not however have any zero emission mandates in place to drive the commercialisation of hydrogen vehicles.

“Hydrogen provides the power density, resource flexibility and emissions reduction that can mitigate environmental damage and promote economic prosperity.”

Due to the lack of zero emission mandates, the region must deploy a different model from that used by the California and Northeast America. Even though there is a lack of mandates, the RHFCC still believes that Midwest America should still be a leader in the US hydrogen economy.

“There are three principal reasons why the American Midwest should be a leader in the US hydrogen economy,” Thomas told H2 View.

“First, the Midwest can manufacture hydrogen inexpensively, either through steam reformation of natural gas or electrolysis of water. It has the nation’s lowest natural gas and electrical power costs and projects to continue to do so.”

“Second, the Midwest, especially Michigan and Ohio, is home to much of America’s transportation industry manufacturing. The transition to fuel cell electric vehicle will disrupt the Midwest’s economy.”

“Finally, the Great Lakes area has many legacy cities that are in non-attainment for air quality and experiencing rising asthma and other health risks. The region needs to transition to zero emission transportation to reduce risk for health problems and to constrain its contribution to climate change.”

In order for Midwest America and the RHFCC to meet its hydrogen goals, the RHFCC needs to continue to inform the public and private leadership on how to plan and develop the hydrogen infrastructure for the region.

In 2017 The Hydrogen Roadmap was developed for the RHFCC. The Hydrogen Roadmap was prepared by CalStart, under the direction of the RHFCC, and sponsored by SARTA.

The Hydrogen Roadmap suggests that within 15 years, 250 hydrogen refuelling stations could be in operation in the Midwest, supporting 135,000 fuel cell electric vehicles and leading to approximately 65,000 new jobs.

“The hydrogen economy in the Midwest is likely to ramp up both for industrial and transportation use over the next decade,” said Thomas.

“The low cost of hydrogen in the region is already causing hydrogen to replace coke as a reducing agent in steel production. Cheap natural gas and repurposed nuclear plants are likely to lead to more regional hydrogen generation.”

“A hydrogen storage, distribution and refuelling infrastructure can begin to be introduced alongside the industrial infrastructure. This is likely to be in response to the transition of heavy-duty trucking, public transit and light duty delivery fleets adopting hydrogen electric vehicles.”

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