The power of hydrogen in our region

Pittsburgh Business Times

(Featured Babst Calland panelists Kevin Garber and Jim Curry)

Sparked by the newly released Allegheny Conference for Community Development’s long-term vision for achieving 70% reduction in carbon dioxide emission by 2050 and anticipating an upcoming Department of Energy funding opportunity announcement (FOA), local industry leaders gathered recently to discuss the benefits of a hydrogen economy.

Collaboration is key

These leaders all agreed that in order to build momentum toward a hydrogen economy in this region now, a collaboration of community resources, academia, energy and other industries, and public entities is key to producing a successful application proposal. More specifically, according to Krekanova, “if hydrogen and carbon capture utilization and storage (CCUS) could be well understood and thoughtfully negotiated, they can produce positive benefits for the environment, for the economy, and for the people.”

“One of the strengths … in the region here is, we have the industry base, we have the academic base, the research base,” Veser said.

Creating and strengthening opportunities for public and private partnerships and using those pooled resources and expertise will create additional opportunities in this region, he added.

“We can make hydrogen from natural gas, we can do carbon capture, we know how to do this. We know how to electrolyze water,” Veser said.

And larger sums of money from both government and industry will further accelerate this research.

“We’re at a place where the federal government obviously is interested in this,” Curry said. “They have put money down for hydrogen hubs; we have the 45Q tax credit.”

In addition to federal tax incentives, Curry said there is an educational component of the policymaking phase of support. There is a need to educate the public about the complex issues associated with hydrogen or carbon capture will affect their energy costs, safety and convenience.

Permitting processes must improve

“If you can get people on board, get them comfortable [that] this is safe, this is going to help them, and it’s going to bring jobs to the region then you can really build the political support you need to do good policy,” Curry said.

In terms of regulatory and permitting issues, changes are required — at the federal and state levels — to streamline and speed up the permitting processes throughout the energy sector, noted Curry.

“I think for hydrogen in this region, it’s really the tie back to carbon capture and getting carbon sequestration wells permitted … the historical average for existing sequestration wells is about five years,” he said.

It’s a significant amount of time for project funders to wait on a project, he added.

Garber suggested that permitting processes could be streamlined. A few states — including West Virginia, North Dakota, and Wyoming — have taken the necessary steps to become the permitting authority for carb on sequestration wells.

“I’ve seen estimates that Pennsylvania has the capacity to sequester two and a half billion tons of CO2,” Garber said. “If we are delayed initial permits … then there certainly is the risk that hydrogen development and CCS [carbon capture and sequestration] transport will go to the Midwest and West as opposed to the Appalachia area.”

Clean energy for the region

In terms of regulatory, now is the time for the Pittsburgh region to add “clean energy for all,” to its “meds, eds and bots” identity, said Duquesne Light’s Guzek.

“The speed and flexibility (of how funds are allocated) are the two things from our perspective that really help us make our region competitive and one that can really prosper” he said.

And the Pittsburgh region is poised to supply a workforce that can support the new technologies and business issues associated with a hydrogen economy.

From an academia perspective, the University of Pittsburgh has played a significant role in research and development, and the educational side is now in the late planning stages of reviving its petroleum engineering undergraduate program with a strong focus on natural gas and renewable energy education for engineers, Veser said. The program — the first of its kind in the U.S. established in 1910 — is being reimagined for new technologies that will help graduates bridge the gap between fossil fuels and renewables.

“We really equip these engineers to lead that transition into whatever the future will bring because it is still unclear what ultimately the winning technologies will be and where the pathway will go,” he said. “There is a clear need in educating the next generation of engineers.”

Job opportunities and education will also be created for various trades, Guzek said.

Next gen of engineers and trade workers needed

“We need to continue to reach out into the communities and drive (home the point) that not everybody has to get a four-year degree,” he said.

Leveraging the partnerships throughout the region and its potentially on-demand industries, universities and hard-working communities will drive the region to a clean energy future for all, Guzek continued.

“I think there are some first movers here poised in the region to really jump into this … and I think there is a good chance that others will follow,” Garber said. “There are companies here that are willing to do this.”

“We’re not going to get there by just one technology,” Curry added.

To view the article and the video discussion, click here.