Clean hydrogen can fuel industrial decarbonization and environmental justice

July 9, 2021

Among the myriad clean energy proposals in President Biden’s American Jobs Plan was one that received little attention, but which could have enormous implications for both reaching net-zero emissions and for environmental justice: a proposal for hydrogen demonstration projects as part of building “next-generation industries in distressed communities.”

Hype around hydrogen has been driven by its unique decarbonizing applications and economic potential, but its ability to advance environmental justice has been overlooked. As the administration pushes for “40 percent of overall benefits” of federal investments into energy and transit to “flow to disadvantaged communities,” it should tap into hydrogen’s potential to drive economic development and eliminate emissions from the industries most responsible for the pollution that burdens marginalized communities — namely, transportation and heavy industry.

The transportation sector accounts for more than one-quarter of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Heavy-duty vehicles, which hydrogen is particularly well-suited to decarbonize, also emit criteria air pollutants (CAP), including nitrogen oxides (NOx), particulate matter (PM) and carbon monoxide (CO), that cause thousands of premature deaths each year. Fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) fueled with clean hydrogen would produce zero tailpipe emissions, eliminating those emissions.

In marginalized communities, hydrogen substitution can thus yield enormous benefits for local health, economic growth and the country’s overall push to decarbonize.

California has been a leader in hydrogen adoption in the transport sector, with over 44 hydrogen fueling stations and goals for hydrogen deployment, including its target of 300,000 hydrogen-powered medium- and heavy-duty commercial trucks by 2035. California Climate Investments recently unveiled a fleet of hydrogen semi-trucks for use in the Port of Los Angeles, a substitution that can have enormous decarbonization benefits: One heavy-duty diesel truck emits 105.4 metric tons of CO2 per year.

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