The hub just got heavier, but critics say it could weigh Appalachia down.
A new, West Virginia state-led coalition consisting of more than 40 entities across Appalachia has formed to pursue billions of dollars in federal funding to develop a hydrogen-based energy and economic development hub.
West Virginia state officials have partnered with the nation’s largest natural gas producer, an Ohio science and technology development nonprofit, an Illinois energy research firm and a Bridgeport energy technology consulting firm to create the regional hydrogen hub.
The state, EQT Corp., Battelle, GTI Energy and Allegheny Science & Technology teamed up to establish the hub, regional business and political leaders announced Wednesday.
“West Virginia is prepared to lead in this initiative — and others like it — that continue to diversify and grow the energy portfolio of our state and our region while spearheading the expansion of energy options for the nation,” state Department of Economic Development Secretary Mitch Carmichael said in a statement.
Establishment of the regional hydrogen hub comes amid a U.S. Department of Energy competition for hydrogen hub funded by the agency.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act enacted in November and supported by Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., allots $8 billion for regional hydrogen hubs to expand industrial use of hydrogen.
Hydrogen, which is light and has the highest energy per mass of any fuel, is viewed as key in the energy transition away from fossil fuels that drive climate change.
Manchin, Capito, McKinley and Gov. Jim Justice formed what they called the West Virginia Hydrogen Hub Coalition in February to support a West Virginia candidate to be chosen to develop the hub.
“This collaborative effort to bring a hydrogen hub to Appalachia is great news that will benefit not only West Virginia, but our entire region,” Manchin said in a statement.
A group of seven national gas, plastics and steel producers said in February it had formed to implement an industrial hydrogen hub in West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Manchin, Capito, McKinley and Justice sent a proposal to participate in the federal hub competition to the Department of Energy in March.
Reps. Alex Mooney and Carol Miller, both R-W.Va., voted against the federal infrastructure law and are not part of the coalition.
The $8 billion is to fund at least four industrial hydrogen hubs in different regions of the country that use varied feedstocks, with a requirement that at least one hub uses fossil fuels to produce hydrogen while others use renewable energy and nuclear energy, respectively.
Two of them must be in regions “with the greatest natural gas resources” to the maximum extent possible.
The coalition pointed to the state’s more than 4,000 miles of pipelines, geologic potential to store carbon dioxide in deep rock formations that would be captured during hydrogen production and deep fossil fuel legacy to make the case that the Mountain State should be a hub site.
Many more of the region’s most powerful corporate and political players are now teaming up in the hub competition.
Among the entities participating in the new group, called the Appalachian Regional Clean Hydrogen Hub, are American Electric Power, Chemours, Dominion Energy, Marathon Petroleum, Marshall University Research Corp., Nucor Steel West Virginia, Peoples Natural Gas, TC Energy and West Virginia University.
“[T]he energy industry has yet to deliver a truly sustainable energy solution that can meet this monumental moment in our efforts to address climate change, while eliminating energy poverty and providing energy security. But that is about to change,” EQT president and CEO Toby Z. Rice said in a statement. “America’s oil and gas industry has awakened to the opportunity in front of them.”
Rice touted ‘blue hydrogen’ as a reliable energy solution that “represents a significant next step in our journey.”
But many clean energy advocates have pointed out that “blue hydrogen,” which is derived mainly from breaking methane into hydrogen and carbon dioxide, isn’t actually clean hydrogen.
Researchers from Cornell and Stanford universities found in a study published last year that greenhouse gas emissions from the production of blue hydrogen are “quite high,” especially due to leaked methane.
Methane has a 100-year global warming potential of 28 to 36 times that of carbon dioxide, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The study found the greenhouse gas footprint of blue hydrogen is more than 20% larger than burning natural gas or coal for heat and about 60% larger than burning diesel oil for heat.
Clean energy advocates have favored “green hydrogen,” which is produced by a renewable-based electric current splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen.
“It’s green hydrogen or no hydrogen,” Eric Engle, board president of Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action, said in an email. “The Ohio River Valley and the states of West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania cannot handle another fossil fuels-driven monstrosity like this hub.”
Blue hydrogen is supported by carbon capture and storage technology that is as yet unproven at commercial scale.
Carbon capture, use and sequestration is an umbrella term for technology that removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and uses it to create products or store it permanently underground. Such technology retrofits commercial power plants to mitigate coal and gas asset emissions.
Many green energy advocates fear that committing to carbon capture technology deployment could lock the U.S. into climate and environment-damaging fossil fuel infrastructure. But
The International Energy Agency has said that carbon capture technology development is key in meeting net-zero carbon dioxide emissions targets, and state PSC and Public Energy Authority officials have endorsed exploring carbon capture technology development in West Virginia.
The Ohio River Valley Institute, a Johnstown, Pennsylvania-based pro-clean energy think tank, released an analysis in March asserting that hydrogen hub projects would raise utility rates, create few new jobs and fall behind in cutting emissions while blocking less-costly climate answers.
The author of that analysis, Ohio River Valley Institute senior researcher Sean O’Leary, says the problem the hub poses for taxpayers and utility customers is that carbon capture-powered blue hydrogen is very expensive. O’Leary predicted that deploying carbon capture as the hub intends would drive up taxes and prices.
Green hydrogen, O’Leary said, will prove less expensive than blue hydrogen without requiring more natural gas production.
Manchin, chairman of the powerful Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, has taken a more fossil fuel-friendly view. West Virginia’s senior senator has suggested preparing existing natural gas pipelines to transport hydrogen, arguing that the unfinished Mountain Valley Pipeline, slated to run from Northwestern West Virginia to Southern Virginia, should be considered a vehicle for doing so.
The Department of Energy has emphasized overcoming technical concerns with pipeline transport of hydrogen, including the potential for hydrogen to embrittle steel and welds used to fabricate the pipelines, and hydrogen leaks.