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Alternative energy capacity earns University spot in ‘hydrogen hub’

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Louisiana, Oklahoma and Arkansas will establish a hub for development, production, and use of hydrogen as fuel and manufacturing feedstock as part of ongoing efforts to diversify the region’s energy portfolio.

The recently announced partnership will enable the three states – where large amounts of hydrogen are produced – to collectively compete for federal funding available through the Infrastructure, Investment, and Jobs Act of 2021. The act directs the U.S. Department of Energy to create regional clean hydrogen hubs. Hydrogen is used in many manufacturing processes, and is increasingly tapped as a clean-burning fuel that helps reduce carbon emissions.

The goal is to foster research, training, collaboration with industry and governmental entities, and workforce development. Several Louisiana universities, including the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, LSU, and Xavier and Southern universities, will be central to the initiative’s success.

Dr. Ramesh Kolluru, UL Lafayette’s vice president for Research, Innovation and Economic Development, said the University “will play a major role in the hydrogen hub initiative because of our position as a global leader in both alternative and traditional energies. As a top-tier, R1 research institution, we have a responsibility to support our state and region, and the capacity to provide that support.”

“The University’s numerous sustainable energy capabilities include a hydrogen research program across several departments and centers equipped with both state-of-the-art laboratories and for field-scale research. We have the infrastructure and expertise to build upon our longstanding success in training engineers, scientists, and other professionals to influence and bolster hydrogen production, utilization and storage.”

It’s important work, including in Louisiana, where the University continues to play a significant role in helping the state meet its goal of carbon neutrality by 2050. That means all carbon dioxide emissions must be offset with equal amounts removed from the atmosphere. Louisiana has also set intermediate goals of greenhouse gas reductions of 28% by 2025, and 50% by 2030.

Meeting those objectives will require balancing ecological and economic considerations, since the state relies on a range of sustainable and traditional energy sources, said UL Lafayette’s Dr. Mark Zappi. “Reducing the carbon footprint in Louisiana – and the region – doesn’t mean we’re going to be able to snap our fingers and there will be no fossil fuel. It will require a measured, balanced approach that relies on a multidisciplinary group of researchers. Input from the private sector and government will also be essential.”

Zappi is executive director of the University’s Energy Institute of Louisiana. The research and policy institute is focused on energy development and usage. It houses several centers that collectively address a variety of energy issues and processes, including petroleum resources, clean technology fuel, and power usage and conservation.

UL Lafayette’s Dr. Terrence Chambers said that “the overarching goal of our research is to examine ways to produce green hydrogen using renewable resources, such as solar and biomass, and store it for later use.”

“Then it would be used for either for electrical power generation or as a feedstock for value added fuels and chemicals, added Chambers, who directs the EIL’s Energy Efficiency & Sustainable Energy Center.

It’s an undertaking for which the University is well-equipped.

Last month, for example, UL Lafayette broke ground on the Louisiana Solar Energy Lab, a 4,500-square-foot building next to the University’s six-acre solar field at University Research Park on Eraste Landry Road. The solar lab will serve as a hub for solar research, technology development, instruction, training, outreach and workforce development.

At the Energy Institute of Louisiana’s Cleco Alternative Energy Center, researchers explore ways to generate power by using renewable resources. Technologies and processes being examined at the center include solar thermal, biomass-fed gasification, and anaerobic digestion, all of which can be implemented in the production of hydrogen.

“The University’s inclusion in the hydrogen hub initiative is indicative of longstanding success in developing solutions for today’s energy needs. That effort is built around a comprehensive approach to energy research, education and outreach, led by our world-class scientists,” Zappi said.

“As always, we will continue to add infrastructure, programs and resources to help our community, state, and region address current and future energy demands and consumption needs,” he added.

Photo caption: UL Lafayette’s alternative energy infrastructure, including at its Cleco Alternative Energy Center, resources and research expertise has made the University a key player in a three-state ‘hydrogen hub’ initiative. Louisiana, Oklahoma and Arkansas will focus development, production, and use of hydrogen as fuel and manufacturing feedstock to help diversify the region’s energy portfolio. Photo credit: Doug Dugas / University of Louisiana at Lafayette