Hydrogen initiative to focus on clean, just energy transitions

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Hydrogen is an important energy carrier that can play a key role in reducing carbon emissions from heavy-duty vehicles and aviation, heating and distributed power, and industrial applications like steelmaking, glassmaking and semiconductor manufacturing.

With growing interest around wider adoption of hydrogen and its potential economic and environmental benefits, the University of Michigan has launched a new initiative to support and catalyze multidisciplinary research involving the universe’s lightest and most abundant element.

MI Hydrogen, a joint venture by the Office of the Vice President for Research, the College of Engineering and the School for Environment and Sustainability, will foster collaboration among U-M researchers, community groups, and government and industry partners to address knowledge gaps and develop strategies to help society transition toward an energy future that is equitable, affordable, clean and secure.

The initiative, which will engage faculty across disciplines, is designed to provide the leading research necessary to accelerate the use of hydrogen beyond current industrial limits.

“As a research community, we are always seeking opportunities to address the greatest challenges of our time so that we can help build a brighter future for generations to come,” said Rebecca Cunningham, vice president for research.

“Climate change is a critical challenge that communities worldwide continue to grapple with, and the University of Michigan is forward-looking here with MI Hydrogen to move the needle and accelerate society’s transition toward clean energy.”

MI Hydrogen is part of the newly launched Institute for Energy Solutions, which is supported by CoE and OVPR. The Center for Sustainable Systems, based in SEAS, also is a lead collaborator of MI Hydrogen.

Professors Todd Allen of CoE and Greg Keoleian of SEAS, who have extensive research experience in fields ranging from nuclear engineering to sustainable systems, will serve as co-directors for MI Hydrogen.

They recently convened a series of visioning sessions with faculty engaged in the hydrogen space to solicit feedback regarding ways in which U-M can help accelerate clean and just energy transitions.

The initiative builds upon the Hydrogen Roadmap for the State of Michigan Workshop hosted last spring at U-M, which brought together stakeholders from academia, industry and government, and led to a report published by the Center for Sustainable Systems.

Based on community input around the proposed design and direction for the initiative, MI Hydrogen will launch with a set of new research projects focused on transportation and industrial applications. Hydrogen is primarily used in the chemical and petroleum refining industries.

Teams also will analyze the potential statewide demand for hydrogen. The majority of hydrogen production in the United States and abroad is generated from steam methane reforming of natural gas, which is problematic from a climate change perspective.

“The fastest path to decarbonization is and will continue to be a pivotal priority that is debated for years to come at the local, state and national levels,” said Allen, the Glenn F. and Gladys H. Knoll Department Chair of Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences and professor of nuclear engineering and radiological sciences.

“And priorities like decarbonization require strong collaboration across diverse groups of people, along with evidence-based research to truly measure the effectiveness of new approaches and policies. MI Hydrogen allows us to do both, ultimately benefiting residents across Michigan and the entire Great Lakes region.”

The potential for hydrogen to serve as a clean, economical energy carrier has generated increased momentum federally, highlighted by a recent commitment from the U.S. Department of Energy to invest $7 billion toward the creation of six to 10 regional hubs designed to accelerate the deployment of hydrogen across the U.S.

“For hydrogen to be deployed in the U.S. broadly, key advances in technology must be created and demonstrated, along with support and alignment of economic and public policy drivers, and societal acceptance,” said Keoleian, the Peter M. Wege Endowed Professor of Sustainable Systems and professor of sustainable systems at SEAS, director of the Center for Sustainable Systems, and a professor of civil and environmental engineering at CoE.

“The University of Michigan is well positioned to catalyze a hydrogen transition, given our expertise across all four of these areas, and together as a research community, we can critically assess hydrogen solutions against incumbent and alternative technologies.”

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  1. Thomas Cislo
    on December 8, 2022 at 11:50 am

    Interesting news from UMich! For anyone wishing to read more about the potential for hydrogen as an energy source I recommend reading: “The Hydrogen Revolution – A Blueprint for the Future of Clean Energy” by Marco Alvera. Publisher: Basic Books – New York 2021.

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