A groundbreaking plan to create an offshore wind-powered hydrogen energy industry cluster in south Louisiana has been awarded $50 million from the Build Back Better Challenge, the U.S. Economic Development Administration announced earlier this month. H2theFuture, which will create a wind-powered hydrogen industry cluster in south Louisiana, won an EDA Build Back Better Challenge award.
The project is among 21 — out of 529 submissions and 60 finalists — to be selected for funding through the 2021 American Rescue Plan competitive grant program. The $1 billion BBB initiative is described by the Commerce Department as “the most impactful regional economic development competition in decades.” The program seeks to boost economic recovery and rebuild communities through transformative investments in regional industry clusters. The winning Louisiana proposal — led by Greater New Orleans Inc. and its affiliate the Greater New Orleans Development Foundation — creates a roadmap for decarbonizing Louisiana’s manufacturing sector while creating new energy jobs.
The federal grant will be supplemented by $24.5 million in matching funds from the State of Louisiana, bringing the total project size to $74.5 million.
“Today’s announcement by President Biden and Secretary of Commerce Raimondo is a significant milestone in Louisiana’s transition to a cleaner, more sustainable and more diversified energy future,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said in a statement announcing the award. “As the first state in the Gulf South to implement a Climate Action Plan, Louisiana has demonstrated the vision and leadership required to meet the historic challenge that climate change represents. This infusion of federal and state dollars, on top of the nearly $20 billion of private capital investment in Louisiana emissions reduction projects announced in the last two years alone, moves us closer to the ultimate goal: net zero carbon emissions by 2050.”
The H2theFuture proposal includes safeguards ensuring that business, procurement and training opportunities are made available to all stakeholders and communities. The plan also prioritizes protecting legacy energy industry workers through the creation of retraining programs that will convert traditional skill sets to low-carbon processes.
“Since day one, President Biden has been laser-focused on ensuring that economic opportunity is delivered to all Americans, especially communities that have grappled with decades of disinvestment or suffered economic distress exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic,” said U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo. “As we invest and grow critical industries in the U.S., we want to create industry hubs in diverse communities across the country. These grants will provide critical and historic funding directly to community coalitions to invest in new infrastructure, research and development, and workforce development programs while creating good-paying jobs, supporting workers, and prioritizing equity.”
H2theFuture would effectively create a new clean energy business model in Louisiana, consisting of five interconnected workstreams:
• Workforce training (H2W) to “upskill” displaced oil and gas workers, rural residents and minorities, led by the Louisiana Community & Technical College System.
• Business development (H2BD) to attract new and existing local and regional energy companies into the hydrogen value chain, led by the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, in partnership with One Acadiana, South Louisiana Economic Council, Southwest Louisiana Economic Alliance and GNO Inc.
• Higher ed-based “testbeds” (H2T) to conduct research of low-carbon hydrogen technologies at Nicholls State University, Louisiana State University, University of Louisiana at Lafayette and University of New Orleans.
• Public-private partnerships (H2P3) to “de-risk” green hydrogen investments at commercial scale, starting with development of a first-ever hydrogen fueling barge at the Port of South Louisiana.
• Organizational and governance “nexus” (H2N) to create a green hydrogen planning hub focused on industry growth and sustainability, to be located within The Beach at UNO.
“We are grateful for the vision of the U.S. Department of Commerce and Economic Development Administration that made H2theFuture possible,” said Michael Hecht, CEO & President of Greater New Orleans, Inc. “Moreover, we want to recognize that this exciting project has come together due to the work and trust of two dozen organizations across South Louisiana, and we extend our gratitude to these outstanding partners, as well.”
In addition to GNO Inc., the 25-organization coalition that developed the H2theFuture blueprint includes south Louisiana’s regional economic development organizations and regional planning commissions; the Port of South Louisiana; four public research universities (LSU, ULL, UNO and Nicholls State) and four HBCUs (Dillard University, Southern University and A&M College in Baton Rouge, Southern University of New Orleans, and Xavier University of Louisiana); the Louisiana Community and Technical College System, representing eight south Louisiana community colleges; and several organizations focused on equity, including the Urban League of Louisiana and the Louisiana Parole Project.
“Securing one of the coveted Build Back Better Challenge awards solidifies Louisiana’s status as a global leader in the energy transition and a prime location for renewable energy investment and innovation,” LED Secretary Don Pierson said. “An economic development project of this scope and complexity requires an extraordinary level of stakeholder collaboration and cooperation. LED is proud to have played a role in leveraging existing economic partnerships and helping to forge new ones to move our entire state forward.”
Green hydrogen is produced by splitting water (H2O) with electrolyzers powered by renewable electricity, such as wind; the carbon-free feedstock can then be used to power advanced manufacturing, commercial-scale transportation and other energy-intensive processes. A study commissioned by the coalition concluded that H2theFuture could cut in half total emissions produced by hydrogen in Louisiana, representing millions of tons of CO2 that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere.
“Louisiana has a long and proud history of supporting energy production on and off our shores,” Louisiana Department of Natural Resources Secretary Thomas Harris said. “This is an opportunity to continue that tradition as we transition to a lower-carbon future and more diversified sources of energy. Both wind and hydrogen are expected to be important tools in Louisiana’s efforts in carbon management in the future.”
“Already, Louisiana is ‘ground zero’ for net zero, with over $18 billion of projects announced for renewable biofuels, blue and green production of hydrogen and ammonia, advanced recycling, and carbon capture,” said Adam Knapp, president and CEO of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber. “This EDA grant will capitalize on this momentum, helping to anchor a new sector and supply chain from decarbonization efforts throughout the south Louisiana industrial corridor.”