PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Hydrogen hubs across the U.S. are vying for a piece of the $8 billion offered to companies through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law signed by President Joe Biden. The allotted funding will be divided among four new hydrogen hubs, and one based in Oregon thinks it has a shot of claiming some of the cash. 

Obsidian Pacific Northwest Hydrogen Hub is one of the numerous hubs in the running for the money, said Ken Dragoon, the company’s director of hydrogen development. 

“We were actually working on our project before we knew anything about that bill. Before that bill came out, we were calling our thing a ‘hydrogen hub,’” he said. 

Dragoon believes his hydrogen hub will move forward, regardless of if it’s selected to receive the federal funding. But if it is chosen, the money would give it a jumpstart. 

The investment would help the company determine where exactly its hydrogen pipeline would run and would help it determine the pipeline material and sizes. Dragoon feels the federal support would also give it more credibility. Right now, the project is completely self-funded. 

Hydrogen is a fuel the United States hopes to rely on as it works to cut greenhouse gas emissions significantly in the coming decades. It can be used to power cars and heat buildings. The benefit of using it over other fuels is that when hydrogen is burned, the byproduct is water

While the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law was signed in 2021, the U.S. Department of Energy did not launch the $8 billion program until June 2022. 

The program aims to select hubs that help achieve the clean hydrogen production standard; demonstrate the production, processing delivery, storage and end use of clean hydrogen; and can be developed into a national clean hydrogen network. 

It’s also considering factors like energy and environmental justice, labor and community engagement, quality jobs and inclusive workforce development. 

“The H2Hubs will form the foundation of a national clean hydrogen network that will contribute substantially to decarbonizing multiple sectors of the economy while also enabling regional and community benefits,” the Department of Energy wrote in its Funding Opportunity Announcement. 

The announcement also states that each of the selected hydrogen hubs must be located in different regions of the U.S. 

That’s why Dragoon said he’s been working with a group established by the Washington state legislature to coordinate a regional proposal. Their task is to take the patchwork of proposals and weave them together into a single proposal for the Department of Energy to consider. 

So far, Dragoon said there have been more than 60 different project proposals submitted. 

Despite this, he still feels his hub stands a fighting chance to be selected or to play a key role in the submitted proposal. 

“We have had feedback from consulting companies who have worked with a number of other regional hydrogen hub proposals who said that our proposal is the most thoroughly thought out of the ones that they have talked with,” Dragoon said. 

A major obstacle to harvesting hydrogen is the energy required to split it from water, but Obsidian Pacific Northwest Hydrogen Hub has a strategy for that. The company plans to rely on wind, solar and hydropower energy to power the electrolyzer, which is used to split the hydrogen from water.  

The hub will have two central nodes where the hydrogen is collected — one in Northeastern Oregon, near Hermiston, and another in Central Washington. 

This map shows the proposed pipeline and hub locations for Obsidian Pacific Northwest Hydrogen Hub. Courtesy Obsidian Renewables

The initial hydrogen that’s collected will be used to make ammonia for nitrogen fertilizers and to power generators at data centers in the Northwest.  

Companies such as Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook and Google have data centers in Oregon and Washington. Right now, they rely on diesel backup generators. Dragoon hopes hydrogen power could replace the diesel generators.

“Those generators can’t operate except in an emergency today, when the grid goes down,” Dragoon explained. “But in theory… when we’re gonna get off fossil fuels, we could operate those generators from hydrogen.” 

Once enough hydrogen is being produced to support ammonia facilities and the data centers, Dragoon would like to see it used to fuel cars, trains and aircraft. 

If a hydrogen hub in the Pacific Northwest is selected to receive federal funding, it would eventually connect to a national clean hydrogen network. 

Dragoon is optimistic about a future involving cleaner energy. He sees hydrogen fuel as a way to improve social equity. He knows low-income housing tends to be located near ports and freeways where diesel engines are used. The pollution in the air makes nearby residents more susceptible to asthma and other respiratory illnesses. 

He’d like to see hydrogen used in place of diesel to help these people who are disproportionately impacted. 

“This is a big deal for the environment, not just climate, but for everyone,” he said. 

KOIN 6 News connected the U.S. Department of Energy to ask what other proposals from Oregon and Washington have applied for the federal funding. We did not receive a response before our deadline.