In $8 billion federal quest to decarbonize, Midwest to build one of seven regional clean hydrogen hubs

The Midwest Alliance for Clean Hydrogen - includes Illinois, Indiana and Michigan - was selected this month to receive $1 billion to develop a Regional Clean Hydrogen Hub by the federal Department of Energy.

The alliance represents more than 70 partners, including the University of Illinois system and Argonne National Laboratory in DuPage County.

Known at MachH2, the coalition came to fruition last year to compete for the national program, which aims to form a foundation for a clean hydrogen network in the U.S.

MachH2 was selected alongside six other organizations to form "H2Hubs." The hubs, to be located across the country in regions such as Appalachia, California and the Gulf Coast, are expected to collectively offset 25 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. That's roughly equivalent to the combined annual emissions of 5.5 million gasoline-powered cars.

While hydrogen has been around as a fuel alternative for decades - most famously as rocket fuel for NASA - it typically has not been "clean." As the country struggles to decarbonize hard-to-electrify sectors such as heavy-duty transportation, petroleum refining and steel, ways to produce hydrogen with little-to-no carbon emissions have emerged as a potential silver bullet.

"Hydrogen is actually the most abundant element in the universe. They say 75% of all matter is made up of hydrogen," MachH2 Chief Integration Officer Neil Banwart said. "There are some unique characteristics that hydrogen has over other forms of energy."

For one, hydrogen fuel cells are more energy dense than the batteries used in electric vehicles. That means a heavy-duty truck fitted with a hydrogen fuel system has less weight to carry around and can drive longer distances before refueling. Those vehicles also can be refueled much faster than their electric counterparts can.

If clean hydrogen is so great, what's the holdup? Hydrogen hasn't gone mainstream as a green alternative fuel yet for two main reasons: it's expensive and the infrastructure isn't there yet.

That's where the regional hubs are meant to come into play. The federal government is putting its $7 billion toward these hubs to create a currently nonexistent network of clean hydrogen producers, consumers and connective infrastructure - while supporting the production, storage, delivery and end-use of clean hydrogen.

All the while, researchers at places like Argonne are looking into how to make cells that are cheaper and more efficient.

Housing one of the largest hydrogen and fuel cell programs in the national laboratory system, Argonne's research looks at improving the performance and durability of today's fuel cells to lower their costs. The lab will continue that work through its membership with MachH2.

Ted Krause, Argonne's chemical engineering department head, added another challenge to widespread deployment of clean hydrogen is that new technologies need to be developed, demonstrated and proven in many of the new markets being targeted for hydrogen.

"These technologies are really at the early stages in the developmental cycle," Krause said in an email.

Hydrogen fuel is made from natural gas by a process called steam methane reforming, which produces carbon dioxide as a byproduct. For every ton of hydrogen produced, about 10 tons of CO2 are released to the atmosphere, Krause said.

But, there are two ways to produce hydrogen with little to no production and release of carbon dioxide: electricity and the capture and sequestration of carbon.

If carbon capture and sequestration technologies are integrated into today's natural gas process, we could see a significant reduction in CO2 emissions, experts say.

Alternatively, electricity can be used to split water into its component molecules of hydrogen and oxygen. This electrolysis produces hydrogen with no carbon dioxide emissions - if the electricity is generated from clean energy sources such as wind, solar or nuclear energy.

"Hydrogen produced by these processes with little or no CO2 emissions is referred to as 'clean' hydrogen and this is why hydrogen is considered so vital in the quest to decarbonize our energy sector," Krause said.

With the incoming federal funding, the wheels currently in motion to pursue widespread clean hydrogen in Illinois will spin a little faster.

One industrial member of MachH2, Constellation, will use a portion of the hub funding to build the world's largest nuclear-powered clean hydrogen production facility at its LaSalle Clean Energy Center.

The project, funded in part through a separate Department of Energy grant, began full production in March 2023. Powered by the LaSalle County Generating Station's two nuclear reactors, the facility will produce an estimated 33,450 tons of clean hydrogen each year.

Closer to home in Bolingbrook, Hyzon Motors is closing in on a late 2024 production start of its hydrogen fuel cell material plant. The company most recently announced the successful completion and factory acceptance testing of the first nine single-stack, 200-kilowatt fuel-cell system preproduction samples at the plant.

Pat Griffin, Hyzon's North America president, said the 200-kilowatt system is a first in the transportation industry, as the company is transitioning from the more common 110-kilowatt system.

"We believe our state-of-the-art facility (in Bolingbrook) will act as an attractor for the hydrogen industry and provide an opportunity for Illinois to be a center for fuel cell technology development," Griffin said.

Griffin added, the clean hydrogen infrastructure to be built through the hub program hugely will support cross-country trucking fleets.

"If you think about it, you can travel as far as your fuel onboard will allow. If there aren't fueling stations everywhere you need to go across the country, you start with a back-to-base model," he said. "As you transition to cross country freight, now you have to have fueling stations. This hydrogen economy that is being set up affords the ability to do that."

Looking ahead, the MachH2 alliance alongside the six other selectees will enter award negotiations with the federal government this winter to finalize details and conditions of the award.

"We're really, really excited that the Midwest could be and will be viewed as a leader in this transition," Banwart said. "This is a tremendous opportunity for the Midwest in terms of funding, jobs and CO2 reductions."

Jenny Whidden,, is a climate change and environment writer working with the Daily Herald through a partnership with Report For America supported by The Nature Conservancy. To help support her work with a tax-deductible donation, see

Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, making up 75% of all matter, MachH2 Chief Integration Officer Neil Banwart said. Banwart added hydrogen fuel cell systems have unique characteristics over other forms of energy, such as being more energy dense than the batteries in electric vehicles.
Powered by the LaSalle County Generating Station's two nuclear reactors, MachH2 member Constellation will use a portion of the hub funding to build the world's largest nuclear-powered clean hydrogen production facility at its LaSalle Clean Energy Center. COURTESY OF CONSTELLATION
The LaSalle County Generating Station will help produce an estimated 33,450 tons of clean hydrogen each year. The station's electricity will be used to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. This electrolysis of water produces hydrogen with no carbon dioxide emissions. COURTESY OF CONSTELLATION
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