Discover how the Biden Administration’s $7 billion investment in seven “clean hydrogen hubs” is a significant step towards a sustainable, low-carbon energy future. These hubs, supported by state governments and private companies, aim to revolutionize hydrogen production and usage in various industries, contributing to the fight against climate change.
A recent Nature Physics op-ed takes on questions and concerns about solar panels’ impact on health and the environment. Get a science-backed perspective on the safety of solar panels, their waste and the solar industry’s efforts to minimize environmental impact.
Biden Administration Selects Seven ‘Clean Hydrogen Hubs’ for $7 Billion Federal Investment
Everyone is suddenly talking about hydrogen. The International Energy Agency has called hydrogen “an increasingly important piece of the net zero emissions by 2050 puzzle.”(1) Hydrogen can be produced using clean energy. When it’s burned as a fuel, hydrogen produces no carbon, and its main emission is water vapor. When it comes to de-carbonizing energy-intense industries like fertilizer production, shipping, trucking and power generation, hydrogen is seen by many as a kind of magic bullet.
But right now, hydrogen is expensive and inefficient to refine, transport and store. Furthermore, making hydrogen today is carbon intense. For it to become part of the solution, a lot of money will need to be invested in research and hydrogen infrastructure.
Last week, in a significant step in that direction, the Biden administration announced the selection of seven “clean hydrogen hubs” across the United States. These hubs represent a collaborative effort between state governments, private companies and research organizations to promote low-carbon hydrogen production and its application in various industries. The Department of Energy (DOE) announced that these hubs are set to receive up to a cumulative $7 billion in federal funds in the coming years, a major part of the $9.5 billion in hydrogen incentives authorized by the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. (2)
These hubs, located in diverse regions from the Pacific Northwest to the East Coast, aim to accelerate the development of the hydrogen landscape. While most of the funding will be released gradually based on meeting key milestones, the successful realization of these hubs is expected to trigger over $40 billion in follow-on investments from participating companies.
Hydrogen is seen as a crucial element for industries with limited alternatives to reduce carbon emissions. These hubs are expected to become key resources in transitioning away from fossil fuels. Some of them will utilize renewable energy exclusively. Others will employ nuclear power and convert fossil gas to hydrogen while implementing carbon capture technology to mitigate emissions.
One of the key goals of these hubs is to develop and demonstrate new technologies, with the private sector expected to play a significant role in subsequent investments. Several of the investing partners are international energy companies. Climate and environmental groups argue that hydrogen research funding is supporting legacy oil companies that have little incentive to find an alternative to their product.
To meet the ambitious target of producing 10 million metric tons of zero or near-zero carbon hydrogen annually by 2030, the seven hubs are projected to contribute 3 million metric tons per year. Yet, industry experts emphasize that building a hydrogen economy is not just about production but also requires substantial investments in storage and transportation infrastructure.
The challenge extends to finding ways to store and transport hydrogen efficiently, a vital factor in scaling its use. Community engagement and transparency are also important considerations, with the DOE requiring hubs to engage with local communities and invest in community benefit plans.
Despite these challenges and concerns, these clean hydrogen hubs represent a significant step forward in the United States’ pursuit of a sustainable and low-carbon energy future.
Are solar panels bad for the environment?
The transition to a clean energy economy will bring a lot of change to the U.S. landscape and change leads to a lot of heated conversations. Nowhere is that truer than when it comes to solar energy.
As the world turns to solar energy as a sustainable power source, a common talking point is the impact that the panels themselves have on the environment. Many community hearings about solar power development are driven by descriptions of photovoltaic panels as potential health hazards.
A recent paper published in the journal Nature Physics, authored by a team including researchers from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the Colorado School of Mines, addresses these concerns and presents a clear, evidence-based perspective on the safety of solar panels.
The key takeaways from the Nature Physics piece include:
Concerns about the increase in solar panel waste need to be viewed in the context of waste from other sources. Solar panel waste projections are minimal compared to categories such as plastics, coal ash, municipal solid waste and even electronic waste like old phones and computers. While all waste needs attention, solar panels are not a major issue in the broader waste conversation. We currently produce as much coal ash in a single month as the entire projected PV module waste anticipated between 2016 and 2050.
One common concern raised against solar development is the presence of cadmium in photovoltaic panels. The paper highlights research that documents that cadmium is present in only a small percentage of panels, typically making up 0.1 percent or less of the panel’s mass. Furthermore, the form of cadmium used in panels is different and safer than the type that leads to health concerns.
Solar panels do not contain harmful levels of toxic materials discussed in public hearings about development. Researchers found no examples of solar panels for utility-scale development containing arsenic, gallium, germanium, or hexavalent chromium. The International Energy Agency confirmed that the only substances of concern in commercial solar panels are trace amounts of lead in the solder used on panels and cadmium in certain modules using CdTe technology. Those unusual modules are currently collected and recycled and do not enter the waste stream.
The solar industry is actively taking steps to reduce waste and concerns about toxicity. These measures include extending the lifespan of panels, exploring alternatives for certain materials and developing efficient ways to recycle panel components. These efforts aim to minimize actual waste compared to current estimates.
It’s important to note that commercial solar developers are responsible for decommissioning projects when they reach the end of their life cycle. Regulators have processes in place to determine who inherits this responsibility if a company sells a project or goes out of business.
Many people are seeking accurate information about health and safety. For the energy transition to move forward, it is crucial to address concerns and ensure scientific data supports decision-making. Researchers are continually probing these questions, emphasizing that their findings and our understanding of this subject will evolve over time.
As the solar industry experiences rapid growth, the challenge is to communicate what researchers know in a way that’s accessible and understandable to the public. With a solid scientific foundation, we can dispel misconceptions, foster informed discussions and ensure that solar energy continues to play a vital role in a sustainable future.