The announcement by the Biden administration of a $7 billion investment in the development and distribution of hydrogen as a major alternative energy source in this country has the potential to be a significant economic boon for our region.
The federal government chose the Appalachian Regional Clean Hydrogen Hub (ARCH2) in West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania as one of the recipients of nearly $1 billion in federal funding to jumpstart the production, transport and use of clean hydrogen.
The Biden administration says a total of seven hubs, scattered across the country, will produce around three million metric tons of hydrogen a year to power vehicles and manufacturing, while reducing carbon emissions.
The federal money comes from the 2021 infrastructure law. Senators Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito, Governor Jim Justice and former Representative David McKinley share the credit for supporting the ARCH2 project. Manchin and Capito played key roles in crafting and backing the infrastructure bill.
David Crane, U.S. Under Secretary for Infrastructure, said during an event in Morgantown on Monday that the ARCH2 team had a convincing pitch. “The level of collaboration, the level of mutual respect, the teamwork between the industry, academia, labor, and the communities that is something over six hours that you cannot fake.”
So, congratulations to all involved, but as is always the case with these kinds of government projects, caution is advised.
The federal money is a huge kickstart, but these projects will not be sustainable without private investment. According to Reuters, “Considerable private investment is required to scale up the low-carbon hydrogen economy in the United States, a report by the consultancy Wood Mackenzie said on Tuesday, adding that the $7 billion allowed by the U.S. Department of Energy to regional hubs was a significant step.
Several of the hubs, including the one planned for here, will extract hydrogen from natural gas. However, that process produces carbon dioxide, which is a greenhouse gas. Plans call for the carbon to be sequestered underground, but that technology is not yet financially scalable.
Environmental groups are opposed to hydrogen production that uses fossil fuels, like natural gas. “Environmental repercussions, stemming from methane leaks and fracking, and concerns regarding carbon capture and sequestration, pose significant threats to public health and the environment,” said Honey May, Sierra Club’s West Virgnia Chapter Director.
So don’t be surprised if the Sierra Club and other environmental organizations mount legal and regulatory challenges at every stage of development of the hydrogen hub, causing costly delays.
Still, the country is moving increasingly toward alternative fuels and there is significant interest in the possibilities from clean-burning hydrogen. If, in fact, hydrogen is going to be one of the fuels of the future, then that future will be manufactured and delivered from right here in West Virginia.