Carbon capture and clean hydrogen at core of debate

The Ohio River Valley Institute hosted a lengthy webinar on the possibilities of carbon capture and storage Thursday.

The think tank conducts “independent nonpartisan research,” according to its website, and works in the Ohio River Valley and western Pennsylvania. Its mission is to help the region by conducting research on vital issues and by promoting clean energy “and more equitable civic structures,” the site states.

Executive Director of ORVI Joanne Kilgour moderated a group that included senior researcher Sean O’Leary, research fellow and former financial analyst with the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis Kathy Hipple, research fellow at New Consensus Justin Mikulka and Leigh Collins, managing editor at Recharge News, an international publication focused on renewable energy.

O’Leary opened the discussion by explaining what a hydrogen hub is, as such a development is being proposed for the Ohio Valley.

“But the hydrogen hub is anchored by a piece of technology called carbon capture and sequestration,” O’Leary began. “And what is being proposed is that a number of plants, factories and other facilities throughout the region that currently emit large volumes of carbon will have attached to them technology that will capture that carbon.”

O’Leary said the carbon would then be carried by a “network of pipelines” that would be interconnected throughout the region with the various facilities. Injection points would be used to inject the harmful carbon into underground storage areas.

The Ohio Valley region is targeted because of its high production of natural gas and coal, which is “allocated” to create hydrogen, especially natural gas, he emphasized.

“We’re producing the product that is called blue hydrogen” via the carbon capture process, he said. The name is attributed to it “theoretically” removing carbon emissions that emanate from the production of hydrogen. But the discussion indicated the process is not cost effective or practical compared to other forms of energy.

He noted some of those ideas put forth are hydrogen-powered vehicles, heating buildings with hydrogen and making cement and fertilizer or even fueling airplanes, for example.

“And so, in their world, the imagined outcome of this will be that the demand for consumption of hydrogen will probably be compounded by 10 to 20 times what it is currently,” O’Leary said.

He said these ideas sound awfully promising in the face of where “the consumption of natural gas for heating and for electricity generation, is largely leveling off.”

O’Leary said this carbon capture technology to power our devices and structures would not stop there but could also include power and petrochemical plants, he noted. But the caveat is these plants would have to be retrofitted with carbon capture technology.

This would mean various pipelines coming up from the ground underneath these plants to transport the carbon to be stored underground.

The cost would be between $170 billion and $230 billion, he said, according to The White House Center for Environmental Quality.

“The problem that exists is that from an economic standpoint, hydrogen, whether it’s clean hydrogen or whether it’s the gray or dirty hydrogen we’re using now, frankly doesn’t make economic sense for most of the functions that people are imagining,” O’Leary said, adding that electric technology is far more efficient and cost effective.

Collins noted another apparent hurdle in that more than a 90 percent capture rate of carbon emissions would be necessary to make the technology worth it. And the amount earmarked in Biden’s bill is “not even close” to what is actually needed, according to O’Leary. He said the potential $230 billion figure was only a part of what was needed.

“We found that the capital cost to retrofit a gas-fired or coal-fired power plant would cost somewhere between a billion and two billion dollars per plant,” O’Leary said.

The discussion covered many aspects of various energy producers as an alternative, with one being green hydrogen that he said cleans the emissions during “its manufacture.”

“And that is green hydrogen, which is made from water using a process that’s powered by renewable energy sources like solar and wind power,” O’Leary said. “That kind of hydrogen has both the potential to be sufficient in supply to meet all of the needs that hydrogen is likely to impose upon us going into the future and, more to the point, it can do it less expensively.”


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