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Officials Eye Hydrogen Hub for West Virginia

photo by: Photo Courtesy of Long Ridge Energy

Long Ridge Energy’s terminal in Hannibal, Ohio, is an example of how clean hydrogen can be used.

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 Friday. Last week, Gov. Jim Justice and three members of the state’s congressional delegation announced the creation of the working group. The working group includes U.S. Senators Joe Manchin, Shelley Moore Capito, and 1st District Congressman David McKinley — the three members of West Virginia’s congressional delegation who voted in favor of the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act last year.

“We are all in agreement on this,” Manchin said in a phone interview Thursday. “It’s something that we, as West Virginians, can do to help our country as we transition … we have a responsibility to continue to be creative and innovative and using research and development for technology.”

“We have such a strong working group … I just think that we understand energy,” Capito said in a phone conversation Friday afternoon. “We can pull together a working group from all kinds of stakeholders. We have a free flow of information among us that I think is really strong, besides the fact that we have the natural resources and some of the geologic formations that could really benefit a project like this.”

“What has brought this to the forefront is further diversification of America’s energy sources,” McKinley said after Friday’s meeting. “The development of hydrogen has been on everyone’s minds for some period of time, but it needs to have a push from the federal government.”

The working group will develop a plan to submit to the U.S. Department of Energy to bring one of at least four possible hydrogen hub projects to West Virginia. Each hub is required to demonstrate the production of clean hydrogen and demonstrate the use of clean hydrogen.

“I feel good about West Virginia’s chances … We’re located in the heart of Appalachia where one of these hubs is going to go, so that’s to our benefit,” Capito said. “We have a wealth of natural gas. We are very pro-energy in this state. Hydrogen could significantly become cleaner, but it’s a great source for all kinds of things, whether its power grid, cars, chemicals — end users in small manufacturing.”

“I’ve always said you can innovate your way to a cleaner climate, you just can’t eliminate it,” Manchin said. “If people think they can just get rid of fossil and get rid of coal, natural gas, oil, and everything else they don’t like and be purists, the rest of the world is not going to follow us in that direction.”

The federal project is funded with $9.5 billion from the hard infrastructure bill. The program is split 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 this was the infrastructure bill,” said McKinley, who was one of 13 Republicans in the House of Representatives who supported the bill. “The infrastructure bill provides the financial resources for it and spells out justification for the four hubs. One of them is to be in Appalachia where there is the greatest production of Appalachia gas. I guess you can say that is 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 metals production, and heavy transportation. Hydrogen can also be used as a long-term fuel cell to store energy for future use.

“Clean hydrogen is key to cleaning up American manufacturing and slashing emissions from carbon-intensive materials like steel and cement while creating good-paying jobs for American workers,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm in a statement. “We’re seeking feedback from the American public on how to make scaling up this clean, affordable energy source a reality for the United States.”

Hydrogen can be extracted from existing fossil fuels, such as natural gas (gray hydrogen) which accounts for more than three-quarters of global hydrogen production, according to the International Energy Agency. The gray hydrogen process still releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Brown hydrogen uses coal and also releases greenhouse gases.

However, the blue hydrogen process takes that 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 right now in a cleaner fashion with carbon capture utilization and sequestration, that’s the one thing that can clean up the climate more than anything in the world,” Manchin said.

While hydrogen is promising, it is also very expensive. According to the IEA, fuel costs — such as natural gas — make up between 45% to 75% of gray hydrogen production costs. According to SPG Global, it can cost anywhere between $3 per kilogram to $6.55 per kilogram to produce clean hydrogen. The federal hydrogen demonstration projects are aimed at making the process less expensive.

PRIME LOCATION

Mike Graney, executive director of the state Department of Economic Development, said West Virginia would make the perfect location to locate a regional hydrogen hub.

“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 as if West Virginia is sort of ideally located for a hydrogen hub. We have abundant natural gas and we have abundant coal, both of which can provide feed stock. We believe that we are potentially near a number of potential off takers.”

One of those potential beneficiaries of a regional hydrogen hub is North Carolina-based steel manufacturer Nucor. The company announced last month 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 greenhouse gas output.

Location is key. Any location for a regional hydrogen hub would need to have ready access to natural gas supplies with possible transition to renewable energy sources; salt, limestone and sandstone formations for either carbon sequestration or hydrogen storage, and coal and natural gas plants that can be retrofitted for hydrogen production or use.

Other considerations include the end users of hydrogen that could be located nearby, such as steel, cement, and chemical industries; or use for power generation or back-up power. Access to natural gas infrastructure and rail/water rights of way for transportation is also a must.

Graney said there are maybe as many as six viable sites in West Virginia that work for a regional hydrogen hub. According to a map developed by the Department of Energy, the only locations near West Virginia either producing clean hydrogen or with infrastructure in place border the Northern Panhandle. An example is the Long Ridge Energy Terminal in Hannibal, Ohio.

“We’re situated near a number of major pipelines that could potentially transport hydrogen not far from a storage facility, we feel like it makes an awful lot of sense to locate a facility here in West Virginia,” Graney said. “We are continuing to follow a policy of all-of-the-above in regard to energy generation in our state, so this fits in nicely without question as we look towards advancing a new form of energy development.”

WEAPONIZING ENERGY

The timing of the hydrogen hub project comes as energy becomes a factor in the world marketplace. Russia, a major producer and supplier of natural gas globally, launched an invasion of neighboring Ukraine on Thursday. Many European countries rely on coal, natural gas, and liquefied natural gas.

“What underscores part of the urgency of this meeting was highlighted by what Russia has done in Ukraine,” McKinley said. “They’ve weaponized the energy sector. We can address that long-term and short-term.”

Capito said the Russian invasion of Ukraine should be a wake-up call for the U.S. to wean itself off of foreign sources of fossil fuels and become truly energy independent. Creating hydrogen hubs is a step in that direction.

“If there is any visible demonstration on why it is in our best interests to be energy independent, it is what is going on in Ukraine and in Europe,” Capito said.

“Putin has weaponized energy,” Manchin said. “He’s using his natural gas. He’s using his coal reserves and oil as a weapon to punish people who do not submit to what he wants. The United States of America must do everything it can to put its faith in the independence of energy that we can supply our country … and supply the rest of our allies and the world so they don’t get caught in that stranglehold.”

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