‘Hydrogen roadmap’: New report details how the lightest element can play a heavy-duty role in Michigan’s clean-energy transition

Friday, September 23, 2022

Ann Arbor, MI - Hydrogen, the most abundant and lightest element in the universe, can play a significant role in accelerating Michigan’s clean-energy transition away from fossil fuels in the coming decades, according to a new report released today by the University of Michigan and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

The report, “Hydrogen Roadmap for the State of Michigan,” was prepared by U-M’s Center for Sustainable Systems with funding from MEDC and the university’s Office of the Vice President for Research. It is a high-level assessment intended to help guide planning and future detailed analysis of a Michigan “hydrogen ecosystem” that encompasses production, delivery, storage and end-use applications.

The new report will inform the state’s response to the U.S. Department of Energy’s $7 billion funding opportunity, announced Thursday, to create regional “H2 Hubs” that will form the foundation of a national clean-hydrogen network. As part of a larger $8 billion hydrogen hub program funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the initial funding opportunity is expected to lead to the selection of six to 10 hubs, according to the Energy Department announcement.

“This new hydrogen roadmap study serves to guide Michigan’s response to the much-anticipated Department of Energy funding announcement and to inform the role hydrogen can play in achieving the decarbonization goals contained in Gov. Whitmer’s Michigan Healthy Climate Plan,” said lead author Greg Keoleian, director of U-M’s Center for Sustainable Systems. “These findings and recommendations will allow us to determine where hydrogen can most beneficially be deployed to advance decarbonization in Michigan.”

In addition to medium- and heavy-duty trucks, a potential near-term application of hydrogen fuel is long-distance ferries, like those that cross Lake Michigan between Ludington, Mich., and Manitowoc, Wisc., and that carry national park visitors to Isle Royale, according to the report. Battery-electric ferries are better-suited for shorter routes. The report also recommended further exploration of hydrogen as a fuel to power Great Lakes freighters, as well as well as Amtrak and freight trains on Chicago to Detroit/Port Huron routes.

Other applications that can potentially use low-carbon hydrogen include the chemical industry, steelmaking, glassmaking, semiconductor manufacturing and ammonia production. Hydrogen deployment in those industries is at various stages of technology readiness.

“Michigan has a tremendous opportunity to capitalize on its rich manufacturing heritage and mobility strengths by tapping into hydrogen as a clean fuel source,” said Nadia Abunasser, Federal Opportunities Director at MEDC. “As we work toward a clean-energy future, this report will play a critical role in strengthening our leadership as a state for businesses of all sizes to find opportunities for investment and growth.”

On Monday, seven Midwestern states, including Michigan, announced they are teaming up to accelerate the development of hydrogen as a clean-energy alternative.

“Gov. Whitmer and governors across the Midwest launched the Midwestern Hydrogen Coalition because they understand that clean hydrogen energy has the potential to create good-paying jobs, improve public health and clear a path to carbon-free transportation, agriculture, industry sectors,” said Zachary Kolodin, Michigan’s chief infrastructure officer. “This new report illustrates the enormous potential for hydrogen investment in Michigan. The Michigan Infrastructure Office looks forward to working with the University of Michigan and the MEDC as we invest in clean hydrogen energy and Michigan’s future.”

The report urges Michigan’s automotive industry to pursue the development of fuel cell-powered medium- and heavy-duty trucks. Investments should also be made in expanding low-carbon hydrogen production and fueling infrastructure.

Fuel cell-powered electric trucks can play an important dual role in Michigan by helping the state transition away from fossil fuels while simultaneously advancing environmental justice goals, according to the new report.

“Because they produce no tailpipe emissions, fuel-cell EVs that replace diesel trucks can be particularly beneficial to communities near highways — improving local air quality and providing health benefits,” Keoleian said. The Center for Sustainable Systems is part of U-M’s School for Environment and Sustainability.

Though hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, it is rarely found naturally in its elemental form on Earth. An odorless, colorless, flammable gas, hydrogen is produced either chemically using fossil fuels, thermally via nuclear energy, or through electrolysis.

Currently, 96% of hydrogen produced worldwide is made using natural gas or coal, resulting in relatively high greenhouse gas emissions. The lowest greenhouse gas emissions result from production of hydrogen via electrolysis using renewable energy.

The new report is an outgrowth of the Hydrogen Roadmap for the State of Michigan Workshop, convened by U-M’s Center for Sustainable Systems in May 2020 with support from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. The 73 workshop participants represented commercial, governmental and academic organizations.

The report’s authors, in addition to Keoleian, are Geoffrey Lewis, Cailin Buchanan, Jake Calzavara, and Maxwell Woody of the U-M Center for Sustainable Systems. Lewis also developed a series of maps identifying assets that could be part of a Michigan hydrogen ecosystem. The maps highlight industrial facilities and transportation corridors as potential sites for hydrogen end-use technologies and infrastructure.

About Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC)

The Michigan Economic Development Corporation is the state’s marketing arm and lead advocate for business development, job awareness and community development with the focus on growing Michigan’s economy. For more information on the MEDC and our initiatives, visit www.MichiganBusiness.org. For Pure Michigan® tourism information, your trip begins at www.michigan.org. Join the conversation on: Facebook Instagram LinkedIn, and Twitter.