Home » Editorial » Hydrogen Hubs Will Fuel Economic Growth, Especially In Coal Country
Home » Editorial » Hydrogen Hubs Will Fuel Economic Growth, Especially In Coal Country

Hydrogen Hubs Will Fuel Economic Growth, Especially In Coal Country

Ken Silverstein 

When President Biden got elected, he promised to help reinvent coal country. And he is fulfilling his promises by facilitating the Appalachian Hydrogen Hub, which will create 21,000 jobs and attract $925 million in public investment. EQTEQT +0.8% Corporation, Battelle, and GTI Energy are the private partners participating in the hub, stretching from West Virginia to Ohio to Pennsylvania.

Altogether, the Biden Administration is creating seven hydrogen hubs across 16 states, involving the Pacific Northwest, the Gulf Coast, the Midwest, and the East Coast. The federal government is planting about $10 billion in seed money — distributed over time. But the hubs will mature into production and distribution facilities, and private enterprises will also invest another $40 billion. That includes AmazonAMZN +0.4%, Exxon Mobil and ChevronCVX -0.8% Corp.

“West Virginia will be on the leading edge of building out the new hydrogen market while bringing good paying jobs and new economic opportunity to the state,” said Senate Energy and Commerce Chair Joe Manchin, D-WV. At least 3,000 permanent jobs will land in coal counties, ranging from engineers to artisans. That’s on top of the positions created by manufacturers such as Sparkz Inc. and Form Energy that settled in the state due to the Inflation Reduction Act.

Once the hydrogen hubs are in full swing, they will produce 10 million metric tons by 2030, and 50 million by 2050, lowering emissions from hard-to-decarbonize sectors such as steel and cement. Those hubs could reduce CO2 levels by 25 million metric tons — equal to removing 5.5 million gasoline-powered cars.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law passed in 2021 is responsible for the hydrogen hubs — supported by West Virginia Senators Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito, and Governor Jim Justice. The state’s two congressional lawmakers — Reps Alex Mooney and Carol Miller — opposed it to curry favor from the former president, who is now under multiple felony indictments. As a result, Governor Justice leads Mooney 62% to 23% in the Republican race for the U.S. Senate. If Manchin runs for re-election, he also beats Mooney, under investigation by the Office of Congressional Ethics.

West Virginia is part of the Marcellus Shale basin, which holds 141 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas. Natural gas can split water into oxygen and hydrogen, powering heavy industry — an emissions-free energy source. Ample shale gas supplies are behind the resurgence of the U.S. chemical manufacturing sector. The fuel is thus a catalyst to potentially decarbonize those plants.

Today, 99% of all hydrogen is produced in reactions involving coal and natural gas and is considered “grey hydrogen” that does little to limit CO2 emissions. Grey hydrogen is used in petroleum refining and fertilizer production: It cracks heavier oils to make lighter petroleum and produces ammonia for plant food.

While the hydrogen learning curve is steep, the evolutionary process is worth it: developers are building pipelines, reducing the need for new infrastructure investment, and accelerating the transition from “grey ” to “green” hydrogen.

The goal is to produce hydrogen from low-carbon energy sources and expand its use in the transportation and power generation sectors. The falling cost of solar and wind energy makes this possible. And now the hardware is also becoming more affordable — especially the electrolyzers, which use an electric current to isolate the hydrogen.

The seven hydrogen hubs will operate differently. For example, the California Hydrogen Hub will use renewable energy and biomass to produce hydrogen. The Mid-Atlantic Hydrogen Hub and Midwest Hydrogen Hub will use renewable and nuclear power. The Pacific Northwest Hydrogen Hub will leverage the region’s hydro resources to produce hydrogen with electrolysis.

“One thing that’s very important to understand about the hubs is they are not single production facilities inside a ring. They are an aggregation of linked regional assets covering in some cases hundreds of miles,” a senior administration official told West Virginia Metro News.

“The way to think about it is, these are geographic regions of the country that will move toward the hydrogen economy first,” the source added. “And then our hope over time is that a second step and a third step all get linked into a national hydrogen economy.”

The U.S. Department of Energy predicts that costs will drop to $1 per kilogram by 2030 — aided in considerable measure by the Inflation Reduction Act. Hence, the hydrogen economy could accelerate, reaching up to 500-800 million tonnes used annually by 2050 and comprising 15% to 20% of global energy demand. It’s now at 115 million tons.

The global economy is changing, increasingly relying on cleaner energies to fuel its growth. Hydrogen is critical to that pathway — accessible to every region of the United States. Coal country and West Virginia are prime examples, slowly but surely impacting the New Energy Economy.

Hydrogen Hubs Will Fuel Economic Growth, Especially In Coal Country (forbes.com)