Development of hydrogen production presents “a potentially extraordinary opportunity” for Pennsylvania's industry and for the Appalachian region, a state energy official said recently.
Adam Walters, a senior energy advisor for the Department of Community and Economic Development’s Office of Energy, was a speaker at the Center for Energy Policy and Management’s recent webinar “Hydrogen: The Future of Clean Energy?”
There has been much discussion lately about the potential for hydrogen to become a major clean energy source, particularly for hard-to-decarbonize industrial sectors like long-distance trucking, and the steel and chemical industries. “Clean hydrogen has the opportunity to reduce emissions in multiple sectors,” he explained.
Walters gave a tutorial on hydrogen, which can be produced from natural gas through steam reformation, which when combined with carbon capture technology becomes so-called “blue hydrogen.” It can also be produced using water and large amounts of renewable electricity to become “green hydrogen” but that technology is now prohibitively expensive. He noted that hydrogen is a secondary energy source, meaning it is converted from a primary energy source, but when hydrogen is burned it produces no emissions, only water vapor.
The Biden administration’s recent infrastructure act provides $8 billion for four “hydrogen hubs” around the country that will develop the technology, infrastructure, and markets to increase the use of hydrogen as a clean fuel source. The race is on across the country to attract one of these hubs, including in Pennsylvania and the Appalachian region.
The Department of Energy recently issued a request for information and received numerous submissions from state governments and regional groups. The state was among those to respond, Walters said, but he noted that it is taking a multifaceted approach to attract hydrogen development.
“We are encouraging the Department of Energy to view proximity to resources and proximity to diverse end use markets” as important factors when weighing their selections. He said the region has the resources, diverse industries, and infrastructure for such a hub. He also noted that the state is working with the Team PA Foundation, an initiative driven by the private sector and non-governmental organizations that are also interested in attracting a hub.
Walters noted that there are “multiple competing approaches” for the DOE funding, and mentioned In-2-Market, a regional alliance of industry, business, academic, and government entities, which is “taking a coordinated, more regional approach.”
He also noted that a potential hub focused on blue hydrogen will use carbon capture “as an enabling pathway.” Carbon capture involves removing the CO2 from emissions, then sequestering it in underground caverns. The technology is in its nascent stages, and much work needs to quickly be done to make it a large-scale reality.
One company that is working to implement hydrogen production and carbon capture at scale is KeyState to Zero. CEO Perry Babb also spoke at the webinar, explaining that his project will use natural gas from a 7,000-acre site in Clinton County to produce blue hydrogen and sequester the CO2 in underground caverns on the same site, in what he called a “closed methane system.”
His aim with the project is to demonstrate that clean hydrogen is commercially viable and not contained in a lab setting. “It has to be affordable and widely available,” he explained.
If a lower-priced, lower carbon product can be produced it will “automatically displace a higher-priced, higher carbon product,” Babb said. “There has to be a business case.”
Blue hydrogen will be most cost-effective to scale up in the near term, Babb said, adding that “Appalachia will be a hydrogen superpower for many generations going forward.”