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Appalachia Can Support a Clean Hydrogen Hub, Report Finds

The Appalachian region is well-suited to be one of the nation’s clean hydrogen hubs, an in-depth report by the National Energy Technology Laboratory concluded.

The recently released Appalachian Hydrogen Infrastructure Analysis pointed to the region’s abundant natural gas resources, existing infrastructure, storage capacity for both hydrogen and carbon dioxide, and industrial demand.

The federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law passed in 2021 contained $7 billion in start-up funding for six to 10 clean hydrogen hubs across the country, with at least one expected to be located in Appalachia. A number of groups are seeking a portion of the funding, including the Decarbonization Network of Appalachia Hydrogen Hub (DNA H2Hub) led by Team PA Foundation, and the Appalachian Regional Clean Hydrogen Hub (ARCH2) backed by West Virginia. The successful applicants are expected to be announced later this year by the U.S. Department of Energy.

“The Appalachian region was hard hit by declining coal production, but hydrogen offers a path to sustainable long-term growth,” said NETL Director Brian Anderson. “With the study, NETL evaluated how the region’s current natural gas transportation and storage infrastructure might be adapted for use with hydrogen.”

The study determined that “hydrogen produced from fossil energy resources with carbon capture and storage (CCS) is viewed as a bridge in the clean energy transition, enabling the development of midstream infrastructure and downstream demand. This transitional use is viewed as necessary while the cost of renewably-driven electrolysis of water to produce hydrogen continues to fall and capacity can be scaled up.”

The Appalachian region’s effort is focused on the production of so-called “blue hydrogen” from natural gas using steam reforming or autothermal reforming with the resulting CO2 emissions captured and stored in underground rock formations.

The study examined the existing pipeline and transportation infrastructure for hydrogen and how natural gas pipelines could be used, the evolving regulatory structure, the feasibility of blending hydrogen with natural gas for use in electricity generation, and the end users that could be developed to decarbonize heavy industry, such as cement and steel-making. It also looked at the storage capacity for CO2, finding that there is enough in the region for 60 plants to last 28 years. In addition, the study found that the region has a strong workforce capable of meeting the challenges of a hydrogen economy.

While the study concluded that the region has the resources to support a hub, some areas present challenges that will require further study.

“A large-scale increase in hydrogen supply and demand will shift the current hydrogen market, and those changes need to be analyzed across a spectrum of supply/demand/cost scenarios,” the report states. Other areas for further study include: additional conversion technologies; hydrogen blending in pipelines; hydrogen and CO2 storage costs and options; job creation across the supply chain; tax credits; energy and environmental justice; and concentrating on the northern Appalachia region where most of the natural gas is produced. NETL expects to conduct more phases of its feasibility analysis as follow-up studies.

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