Beshear eager to develop Kentucky’s hydrogen market

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear lauded hydrogen’s economic development potential in front of a packed house at the Kentucky Oil and Gas Association’s first hydrogen summit in Louisville on Wednesday.

Energy and Environment Secretary Rebecca Goodman and Beshear offered opening remarks at the conference “Blue Gas in the Bluegrass” focused on the buildout of hydrogen infrastructure as a low-carbon fuel option for use in industry, transportation and power generation.

Beshear did not mention climate change or the need to end our reliance on fossil fuels in his speech. Instead, he leaned into the jobs the hydrogen market could bring to the state.

“Hydrogen, the blue gas of the Bluegrass… is quickly emerging as an important low-carbon energy source for a variety of uses,” Beshear said. “This affects so many Kentucky businesses from power production, manufacturing, and automotive production to logistics and distribution and even our signature bourbon and spirits industry.”

The scientific consensus is that we must essentially halve carbon emissions by 2030 in order to limit global warming to 2.7 degrees, and reach net-zero emissions by 2050 to avoid the worst impacts of climate disruption.

Many are hopeful hydrogen could hold the key to decarbonizing the economy, but there have been false starts in the past, and a number of challenges remain to make hydrogen cost-effective and at-scale.

The basic process for making hydrogen uses electricity to split water (H20) into hydrogen and oxygen. Experts use a color-coded system to describe the various levels of carbon intensity necessary to make hydrogen.

For example, gray hydrogen is created from methane using a process called steam methane reformation. It’s the most common form of hydrogen production and produces carbon emissions. When those emissions are captured and stored, it’s called blue hydrogen. So far, carbon capture hasn’t proven itself to be a feasible technology.

The oil and gas industry is keen on the development of blue hydrogen as a transition fuel that maintains their foothold in the marketplace even as the world transitions away from burning fossil fuels.

A 2021 study found that emissions from the production of blue hydrogen can still be “quite high” because of the methane that escapes in the transportation and production of hydrogen. Methane has a shorter half life in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, but is a much more potent greenhouse gas.

The push to make hydrogen the fuel of tomorrow is nonetheless accelerating in Kentucky. Beshear sees hydrogen as one piece of the state’s energy strategy and has been eager to develop the market in Kentucky.

Beshear said the buildout of hydrogen infrastructure is personal to him as the father of two children. He emphasized that he wants his children to have every available economic opportunity in Kentucky.

“Our goal is to be a participant with as many groups as we can because we want to be one of the winners in the development of the hydrogen market,” Beshear said.

Last year’s federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law included $8 billion to develop regional clean hydrogen hubs across the country. The state has already joined two regional hubs: the Appalachian hydrogen hub and the Midwestern Hydrogen Coalition.

The summit featured speakers from Kentucky’s Office of Energy Policy, Brown-Forman, Toyota North America and more. Registration for the one-day summit cost $400 per person and included a complimentary networking reception “featuring some of Kentucky’s best bourbons.”

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