CHARLESTON — Economic development officials and congressional leaders believe West Virginia would be a prime candidate for a massive project to demonstrate the use of hydrogen in manufacturing.
The West Virginia Hydrogen Hub working group held its first organizational meeting on Friday. Last week, Governor Jim Justice and three members of the state’s congressional delegation announced the creation of the task force. The task force includes U.S. Senators Joe Manchin, Shelley Moore Capito and 1st District Congressman David McKinley – the three congressional leaders who voted in favor of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. $1.2 trillion last year.
“We all agree on that” Manchin said in a phone interview Thursday. “This is something we as West Virginians can do to help our country through the transition…we have a responsibility to continue to be creative and innovative and to use research and development for technology. .”
“We have such a strong task force…I just think we understand the energy,” Capito said in a Friday afternoon phone conversation. “We can put together a working group made up of all kinds of stakeholders. We have a free flow of information between us which I think is really strong in addition to the fact that we have the natural resources and some of the geological formations that could really benefit a project like this.
“What has brought this to the fore is increased diversification of US energy sources,” McKinley said after Friday’s meeting. “Hydrogen development has been on everyone’s mind for some time, but it needs a push from the federal government.”
The task force will develop a plan for submission to the U.S. Department of Energy to bring one of four possible hydrogen hub projects to West Virginia. Each hub must demonstrate the production of clean hydrogen and demonstrate the use of clean hydrogen.
“I feel good about the chances of West Virginia…We’re located in the heart of Appalachia where one of these hubs is going to go, so it’s to our advantage,” Capito said. “We have a natural gas mine. We are very pro-energy in this state. Hydrogen could get considerably cleaner, but it’s a great source for all sorts of things, whether it’s its power grid, its cars, its chemicals – small manufacturing end users.
“I’ve always said you can innovate for a cleaner climate, you just can’t eliminate it,” Manchin said. “If people think they can just get rid of fossils and get rid of coal, natural gas, oil and whatever they don’t like and be purists, the rest of the world won’t follow us in this direction.”
The federal project is funded with $9.5 billion from the Physical Infrastructure Bill. The program is divided into three projects: $8 billion for the Regional Hydrogen Hub program; $1 billion for the Clean Hydrogen Electrolysis program; and $500 million for the Clean Hydrogen Manufacturing and Recycling Program.
“The genesis of all of this was the infrastructure bill,” said McKinley, who was one of 13 Republicans in the House of Representatives who supported the bill. “The bill on infrastructure provides the financial means and specifies the justification of the four poles. One of them is being in Appalachia where there is the largest gas production in Appalachia. I guess you can say that’s a code word for West Virginia.
TIME TO HYDRATE
According to the Department of Energy, hydrogen is a clean fuel that can be used to decarbonize manufacturing processes, such as steel and metal production and heavy transportation. Hydrogen can also be used as a long-term fuel cell to store energy for future use.
“Clean hydrogen is essential to cleaning up American manufacturing and reducing emissions from carbon-intensive materials like steel and cement while creating well-paying jobs for American workers,” US Energy Secretary Jennifer M. Granholm said in a statement. “We are seeking input from the American public on how to make scaling up this clean, affordable source of energy a reality for the United States.”
Hydrogen can be extracted from existing fossil fuels, such as natural gas (grey hydrogen) which accounts for more than three quarters of global hydrogen production according to the International Energy Agency. The gray hydrogen process always releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Brown hydrogen uses coal and also releases greenhouse gases.
However, the blue hydrogen process takes this carbon dioxide and pumps it underground through carbon capture and sequestration. Water electrolysis (green hydrogen) can also be used to extract hydrogen using clean energy sources, such as wind. Pink hydrogen uses electrolysis using nuclear energy.
“If we can show how we can do what we’re doing now in a cleaner way with carbon use and sequestration, that’s the only thing that can clean up the climate more than anything in the world,” Manchin said.
If hydrogen is promising, it is also very expensive. According to the IEA, the costs of fuels, such as natural gas, represent between 45% and 75% of the production costs of gray hydrogen. According to SPG Global, producing clean hydrogen can cost between $3 per kilogram and $6.55 per kilogram. Federal hydrogen demonstration projects aim to make the process less expensive.
Mike Graney, executive director of the state’s Department of Economic Development, said West Virginia would be the ideal location to locate a regional hydrogen center.
“There have been a number of interested parties who are definitely pursuing the concept of locating a hydrogen hub here in West Virginia,” Graney said. “We really feel like West Virginia is kind of ideally situated for a hydrogen hub. We have abundant natural gas and we have abundant coal, both of which can provide raw materials. We believe that we are potentially close to a number of potential buyers.
One such potential beneficiary of a regional hydrogen hub is North Carolina-based steelmaker Nucor. The company announced last month that it would locate a steel mill in Mason County. Nucor uses electric arc furnaces to produce steel products and has set significant goals to reduce its production of greenhouse gases.
Location is key. Any location for a regional hydrogen hub should have easy access to natural gas supplies with possible transition to renewable energy sources; salt, limestone and sandstone formations for carbon sequestration or hydrogen storage, and coal and natural gas power plants that can be retrofitted for hydrogen production or use.
Other considerations include end-users of hydrogen that may be located nearby, such as the steel, cement, and chemical industries; or use for power generation or backup power. Access to natural gas infrastructure and rail and river rights-of-way for transport is also essential.
Graney said there may be as many as six viable sites in West Virginia working for a regional hydrogen center. According to a map compiled by the Department of Energy, the only places near West Virginia that produce clean hydrogen or have infrastructure in place border the Northern Panhandle. An example is the Long Ridge Energy Terminal in Hannibal, Ohio.
“We are located near a number of major pipelines that could potentially transport hydrogen not far from a storage facility, we believe it makes tremendous sense to locate a facility here in West Virginia,” Graney said. “We continue to follow a policy of all of the above when it comes to energy production in our state, so that fits right in without a doubt as we look to advance a new form of energy development.”
The timing of the hydrogen hub project comes as energy becomes a factor in the global market. Russia, a major global producer and supplier of natural gas, launched an invasion of neighboring Ukraine on Thursday. Many European countries depend on coal, natural gas and liquefied natural gas.
“What underlines some of the urgency of this meeting has been underscored by what Russia has done in Ukraine,” McKinley said. “They have militarized the energy sector. We can deal with this problem in the long term and in the short term.
Capito said the Russian invasion of Ukraine should be a wake-up call for the United States to wean itself off foreign sources of fossil fuels and become truly energy independent. The creation of hydrogen hubs is a step in this direction.
“If there is a visible demonstration of why it is in our interest to be energy independent, it is what is happening in Ukraine and in Europe,” he added. Capito said.
“Putin has a militarized energy” Manchin said. “He uses his natural gas. He uses his coal and oil reserves as a weapon to punish people who don’t submit to what he wants. The United States of America must do everything it can to believe in the energy independence that we can provide for our country…and supply the rest of our allies and the world so that they are not caught in this vice.
Steven Allen Adams can be contacted at [email protected]