A Toyota Motor Corp.'s new hydrogen fuel cell vehicle Mirai arrives at a charge station near Toyota's showroom on Nov. 17, 2014, in Tokyo.  (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi, File)
A Toyota Motor Corp.'s new hydrogen fuel cell vehicle Mirai arrives at a charge station near Toyota's showroom on Nov. 17, 2014, in Tokyo. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi, File)

TRAVERSE CITY—Michigan has joined six other Midwestern states in teaming up to accelerate the development of hydrogen as a clean-energy alternative for automobiles and factories that rely largely on climate-warming fossil fuels, governors said Monday.

In addition to Michigan, the partnership includes Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin—whose economies are all dominated by agriculture and heavy industry such as steel and automobile manufacturing, and where Michigan leads the pack in terms of energy-related jobs.

“The Midwest will continue leading the future of mobility and energy innovation and has enormous potential for transformative hydrogen investments,” said Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Hydrogen is a colorless, odorless gas that already powers some cars, trucks, buses and trains.

But a shortage of fueling stations limits their appeal. Some environmentalists are skeptical because most commercially produced hydrogen in the US comes from natural gas, which emits greenhouse pollutants carbon dioxide and methane. Still, hydrogen can be derived using electric currents from wind, solar or other means that produce few if any emissions contributing to global warming.

Such “clean hydrogen” releases only water as a byproduct when used in a fuel cell.

“We don’t have to choose between clean energy and clean air and creating good-paying jobs and a strong economy—we can do both,” said Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers.

The federal infrastructure law enacted last year included $8 billion for the US Department of Energy to fund regional “hubs” that would step up clean hydrogen production and distribution. Climate legislation signed last month by President Joe Biden offers a tax credit to make clean hydrogen more competitive.

Those measures “made it almost certain that clean hydrogen development will become a major alternative for producing energy both in the Midwest and nationally,” said Zachary Kolodin, Michigan’s chief infrastructure officer.

States in the Rocky Mountains and the Deep South announced regional associations earlier this year. Another was proposed for the Los Angeles Basin in California.

The Midwestern Hydrogen Coalition hasn’t committed to joint pursuit of federal funding, although smaller groups of states or industries might seek grants.

Instead, the seven-state partnership will focus on boosting development, markets, supply chains and a work force for clean hydrogen, according to a joint statement.

It will take advantage of assets such as the region’s pipelines and tanks for distributing and storing ammonia, which consists largely of hydrogen and is a key ingredient in fertilizer.

Hydrogen “could help us end the use of fossil fuels, and it could be especially helpful for industry, which is the hardest to decarbonize,” said Charlotte Jameson, chief policy officer with the Michigan Environmental Council. “But not all hydrogen is clean.”

Midwest states should focus on hydrogen made from renewables and should not use their coalition to “delay moving our power systems to renewable energy and electrifying our buildings and transportation,” Jameson said. “We have the solutions and the momentum to do that now.”

‘Gander Editor Kyle Kaminski contributed to this report.