Northwestern University is a key partner in the Midwest Alliance for Clean Hydrogen (MachH2), one of seven new Regional Clean Hydrogen Hubs across the nation selected to receive $7 billion in funding to accelerate the domestic market for low-cost, clean hydrogen.
Also known as the Midwest Hydrogen Hub, the hub spans Illinois, Indiana and Michigan, an important U.S. industrial and transportation corridor. It is a coalition of public and private entities representing every phase in the hydrogen value chain (production, storage and distribution, and consumption and application).
MachH2 plans to produce hydrogen by leveraging diverse and abundant energy sources, including renewable energy, natural gas and low-cost nuclear energy. This hub will enable decarbonization through strategic hydrogen uses including steel and glass production, power generation, refining, heavy-duty transportation and sustainable aviation fuel.
Chemical engineer Jennifer Dunn, who is leading Northwestern’s effort, attended the Oct. 13 ceremony in Philadelphia where President Joe Biden and Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm announced the seven hubs. Hydrogen is a valuable energy product that can be produced with zero or near-zero carbon emissions and is crucial to meeting the president’s climate and energy security goals.
“These hubs are where the rubber meets the road for the hydrogen economy,” said Dunn, who will serve as chief decarbonization officer of MachH2. “Northwestern is part of the team working hard to make this hub a success not only in demonstrating the technology, but also by developing and applying methods to identify how the hub can work towards decreasing greenhouse gas emissions through improving hydrogen production technology, transportation, and storage and applications in multiple end uses.”
Dunn is professor of chemical and biological engineering at the McCormick School of Engineering, director of the Center for Engineering Sustainability and Resilience, associate director of the Northwestern-Argonne Institute of Science and Engineering and faculty affiliate at the Paula M. Trienens Institute for Sustainability and Energy.
“The Biden administration has clearly stated the promise of the hydrogen hubs, including MachH2, in driving down greenhouse gas emissions, creating rewarding jobs in the clean energy transition and ensuring environmental and health benefits to disadvantaged communities,” Dunn said. “I was excited to see President Biden and Jennifer Granholm’s support for what is truly a dramatic investment in the hydrogen economy.”
An expert in the environmental impact of emerging technologies, Dunn will collaborate with the life cycle analysis group at Argonne National Laboratory and researchers at the University of Michigan and Idaho National Laboratory. Two chemical engineering Ph.D. students will be part of her team.
For hydrogen to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with energy systems, scientists and engineers need to consider the greenhouse gases emitted all along the hydrogen supply chain. For example, hydrogen can be made from natural gas, a process that emits more greenhouse gases than if hydrogen is made using electricity from wind turbines or solar panels.
“Per amount of energy delivered, we want to see hydrogen emit a minimal amount of greenhouse gases, especially when compared to other energy sources like natural gas or electricity,” Dunn said.
Another important factor is how the hydrogen is used. It could be used in place of natural gas as a fuel, in processes to make aviation fuel from biomass or to power fuel cell vehicles, for example. Researchers must consider the amount of greenhouse gases emitted in each hydrogen end use and how using hydrogen compares to the business-as-usual case for each application.
As chief decarbonization officer for MachH2, Dunn will focus on how expanding the hydrogen economy can be used to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the Midwest. She will lead a group of people quantifying the greenhouse gases emitted in making and using hydrogen and comparing these emissions to a baseline case in which the hub does not exist.
“It is imperative that we develop sustainable, cleaner energy sources to enable resilient communities and greener solutions,” said Eric J. Perreault, vice president for research at Northwestern. “Decarbonization is one of Northwestern’s strategic research priorities, demanding the partnership of thought leaders from across disciplines — and, as in the case of MachH2, across a coalition of outstanding partners in the public and private sectors. We are thrilled to be contributing to this transformative initiative.”