Louisiana climate task force eyes hydrogen energy for federal dollars

Industrial decarbonization still biggest obstacle

By: - July 14, 2022 10:16 am

Louisiana is considering an investment in hydrogen energy for use as a fuel and industrial feedstock to replace natural gas and other fossil fuels that petrochemical manufacturers burn to make their products. (Canva image)

Eyeing billions in federal infrastructure dollars, Louisiana’s Climate Initiatives Task Force is evaluating several ongoing projects including a transition to hydrogen energy and building electrical vehicle infrastructure. But the effort faces a significant obstacle to achieve its goal of net zero emissions by 2050.

The task force has already begun to pick what its members call “low-hanging fruit” in the form of updating Louisiana’s building efficiency standards. Thanks to the Louisiana Legislature’s passage of Act 635 this year, a new one-time commission will review the latest international standards to propose amendments to state building codes that address energy efficiency.

Jacqueline Dadakis with the Louisiana State Uniform Construction Code Council said at a task force meeting Tuesday that the state consistently ranks worst in the nation on total energy costs for residential buildings.

According to the Environmental Energy and Study Institute, residential and commercial buildings are responsible for almost 40% of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions through their manufacture and assembly as well as their use of electricity for lighting, heating, cooling and running appliances. 

“I think we’re looking at about a 35 to 40% improvement on future buildings,” Dadakis said.

Industry accounts for well over half Louisiana’s carbon emissions, research shows

However, the task force’s biggest challenge is industrial decarbonization. Louisiana’s climate issues come largely from industrial sources, which emit 66% of the state’s total greenhouse gas emissions and consume 72% of the state’s energy, according to Louisiana’s 2021 Greenhouse Gas Inventory that LSU researchers compiled.

Chemical manufacturers and fossil fuel refineries are the main contributors. Just 20 facilities are responsible for nearly half the state’s industrial emissions, and government officials continue to expand Louisiana’s carbon footprint, having issued permits that would allow for a roughly 71% increase in industrial emissions, according to the study.

The LSU researchers concluded that “after a review of this study, it is hard to walk away without reaching the conclusion that industrial decarbonization will have to be the predominant focus of attention for Louisiana policy makers in meeting our future [greenhouse gas] emission goals.”

One possible solution task force members are considering is an investment in hydrogen energy for use as a fuel and industrial feedstock to replace natural gas and other fossil fuels that petrochemical manufacturers burn to make their products. It’s unclear how much of an impact it could make. 

Louisiana entered into a three-state partnership with Oklahoma and Arkansas in March to establish the HALO Hydrogen Hub, which aims to produce hydrogen for industrial use.

“It’s currently used in a lot of manufacturing processes in Louisiana, and there are many opportunities that exist to clean up that fuel use so that we can reduce emissions from our feedstocks and our fuel uses in manufacturing and as a fuel source,” Lindsay Cooper, a policy analyst for Gov. John Bel Edwards, told the task force.  

The hydrogen hub is dependent on a $2 billion grant from President Joe Biden’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The guidelines for attaining the grant are scheduled to come out in August, Cooper said.

Louisiana Clean Fuels Executive Director Ann Vail, who is spearheading the transportation component of the task force’s climate action plan, said hydrogen is also being used in vehicles. Vail said Louisiana is slated to receive $14 million annually in federal money to begin building electric and hydrogen vehicle infrastructure. 

One of the challenges with hydrogen is that producing it requires energy, resulting in greenhouse gas emissions. So-called “gray hydrogen” comes from fracked natural gas and emits methane. A cleaner version, “blue hydrogen,” comes from natural gas mixed with steam and relies on carbon capture to trap and store the emissions. “Green hydrogen” is considered carbon neutral and is formed through electrolysis using renewable energy such as solar and wind.

Task force member Collette Pichon Battle, executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law and Policy, questioned if hydrogen is just a way for the fossil fuel industry to stall the adoption of pure renewable energy sources.

“If we just put more money in gray hydrogen or in blue hydrogen, what we’re actually doing is using federal dollars to prop up and manage a fossil fuel industry when we could be using those same dollars to manage and prop up a renewable energy industry,” she said.

Battle urged her colleagues to consider bigger changes, noting that the task force has a huge goal to meet in a short amount of time. There are better industrial manufacturing options available to which no one on the task force objects, she said.

Terrence Chambers, a University of Louisiana-Lafayette professor and solar energy engineer, said the state’s industrial power could pivot to producing renewable energy components such as photovoltaic cells and parts for wind turbines. 

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He referred to a Princeton University study that said Louisiana will be negatively impacted by the energy transition over the next 30 years unless the state does something differently. 

“[Princeton] told us what the different thing can be,” Chambers said, referring to the study. “They said there are degrees of freedom in the siting of renewable energy manufacturing facilities, and choices can be made to locate those manufacturing facilities for renewable energy products in the states that will be most affected by the energy transition.”

Louisiana’s petrochemical manufacturing workforce is well suited to be retrained in engineering and manufacturing renewable energy tech, Chambers said, explaining the state already has all the elements required to make such a pivot. 

“I think there’s a tremendous opportunity for us if we will embrace that,” he said.

The use of renewables for green hydrogen and in hardening the state’s energy grid are “certainly part of that conversation,” Cooper, with the governor’s office, said

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Wesley Muller
Wesley Muller

Wes Muller traces his journalism roots back to 1997 when, at age 13, he built and launched a hyper-local news website for his New Orleans neighborhood. In the years since then, he has freelanced for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans and worked on staff at the Sun Herald in Biloxi, WAFB-9News CBS in Baton Rouge, and the Enterprise-Journal in McComb, Mississippi. He also taught English as an adjunct instructor at Baton Rouge Community College. Among his recognitions are McClatchy's National President's Award, the Associated Press Freedom of Information Award, and the Daniel M. Phillips Freedom of Information Award from the Mississippi Press Association. Muller is an alumnus of Jesuit High School and the University of New Orleans and is a veteran U.S. Army paratrooper. He lives in Louisiana with his wife and two sons.

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