The first step in a new industrial revolution: raising the bar for clean hubs


By Nichole Saunders

We’re at the threshold of a multi-billion dollar industrial decarbonization revolution that will usher in clean energy projects around the world. Unlike the industrial revolution of 100 years ago, imagine if this next one genuinely considered environmental and public good alongside economic objectives.

Globally, governments are planning to use a “hub” approach to develop multi-purpose clean energy projects. Many industrial processes require many kinds of infrastructure like plants, pipelines and transportation networks. Planning and managing these projects more cohesively could make good business, climate and public health sense if it’s done thoughtfully.

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These industrial hubs present an opportunity to think differently, to embrace a vision for environmentally conscious and community-centered industrial planning and design. Rather than operating in silos of the past, coordinating these activities and infrastructure wherever possible can be a good strategy that could help to commercialize key technologies, use infrastructure more efficiently and reduce negative impacts.

Let’s use the more than $12 billion in Department of Energy funding that will be allocated to hydrogen and direct air capture hub demonstration projects around the country as an applied example.

Hundreds of companies have joined teams to submit initial concepts for DOE funding, and several of them have been encouraged by DOE to submit full proposals in April. That leaves a narrow window to inject new thinking into the proposal process. A flurry of discussion has focused on ensuring hubs effectively scale and commercialize key technologies, making cleaner solutions economically irresistible. This is important, but it’s not complete: we also need concrete strategies to ensure this multi-billion dollar investment doesn’t simply replicate last century’s approach to industrial development and fail both the climate and communities — again.

To this end, Environmental Defense Fund developed a set of core objectives to help governments, companies investors and local communities tackle the tough issues and work collaboratively and proactively to design and engage with industrial hub projects in ways that are transparent, accountable and result in better outcomes for both people and the planet. In short, we seek to raise expectations for hub projects and set a new standard for what clean industrial development should look like.

Most of these ideas are not brand new. Housed at, the core objectives align in many ways with DOE’s existing asks of hub applicants. But they go further by calling for more specificity in aims, outcomes accountability and transparency. They cover a wide set of subjects, from community engagement and local economic development to careful climate pollution mitigation and carbon management. Below are the broad categories of objectives; visit BetterHubs for more detailed information, targeted outcomes and relevant resources and references.

  • Monitor and mitigate climate pollutant emissions.
  • Track, minimize, and mitigate local and international environmental impacts.
  • Responsibly, equitably, and efficiently site and resource hub operations.
  • Demonstrate safe and effective carbon management from capture to sequestration, where applicable.
  • Deploy rigorous community engagement and partnership.
  • Foster diverse local economic development opportunities.
  • Comply with advanced protective regulatory frameworks.
  • Demonstrate added value and necessity as a clean energy solution.
  • Maximize transparency and foster information sharing.
  • Safely transport and store materials and products.

When it comes to industrial revolutions, you don’t get a second chance to get it right. Hubs and similar “clean energy” projects are likely to define the next 100 years of industrial decarbonization efforts around the world, and the Department of Energy and the hundreds of stakeholders involved in designing and implementing these projects have a chance to set a high bar for how they are proposed, awarded and executed.

Implemented wisely, this investment has great potential to help turn the tide on runaway climate emissions in the United States, jumpstart clean strategies across economic sectors, and address the legacy of inequity that has permeated industrial development for generations. Implemented poorly, this historic investment will repeat or even exacerbate equity and environmental failures of the past.

It’s critical we get this right the first time.

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