Global scientific community observes arrival of natural gas and hydrogen power plant in Hannibal, Ohio

There aren’t many people who live in Hannibal, Ohio. It’s a small port stopover on the Ohio River, with just 1,000 people living in Ohio Township and roughly 14,000 in Monroe County. About 35 miles upstream is Wheeling, West Virginia, and about 45 miles downstream is Marietta, Ohio.

But this tiny place in what’s considered the Appalachian part of Ohio, a new powerhouse that’s catching the attention of the scientific world is set to open here in late August. Long peak energy, which sits on a 1,600-acre property where an aluminum smelter closed about ten years ago, will generate electricity that will blend natural gas and hydrogen as an energy source.

Hydrogen is “rediscovered” as an environmentally friendly energy source, although it is simpler than complicated: it is the simplest and most abundant element on earth, composed of a single proton and one electron. But there is a catch. It usually does not exist by itself in nature and must be produced from compounds that contain it.

“What we do is very important to the renewable energy industry, and we have gone somewhat unnoticed as a leader in some of the big changes ahead for the energy industry,” Robert “Bo” Wholey, President of Long Ridge Energy and a native of Pittsburgh, told the Ohio Capital Journal.

“Some factories have recently opened in Europe and Australia that use more hydrogen and plan to do more in the United States in the coming years, but we believe this is the first operation in America to combine hydrogen and natural gas. for clean energy, ”he continued. “What we’re doing is using what’s here in this part of Ohio now – water and natural gas wells – and using them to reduce and ultimately eliminate carbon emissions.”

Some analysts are skeptical of whether these combo plants are a viable route to decarbonization, but Wholey is optimistic that Long Ridge can get a growing mix of hydrogen in long-term power generation, perhaps. be 100% same.

In fact, we say to keep our local benefits here for our economic benefits, and not to send them for others to enjoy.

– Don’t forget to add the author

This is no small project going on in small town Ohio. It will produce 485 megawatts per year (capable of powering approximately 400,000 homes) and has raised $ 599 million in funding. And given that the plant will only use a fraction of the 1,600 acres of property it sits on, plans are to attract large national companies that want clean energy at a good price for themselves. implant there.

“It is basic in economics to combine cutting edge science with the resources available there,” Wholey said. “In fact, we’re saying keep our local benefits here for our economic benefits, and not send them out for others to enjoy. “

Mario Azar, president of the electrical business of Black & Veatch, one of the project partners, highlighted how the energy industry pays attention to Long Ridge at startup: “Balanced energy portfolios that maximize usage next-generation emissions – Free fuel sources such as hydrogen will be critical to managing the energy transition and “repowering the power industry,” Azar said in a recent statement. “The unique Long Ridge project represents a milestone for the US power industry and reflects the growing place of hydrogen as an important pillar of the global decarbonization effort.”

In order to understand the importance of this project for this economically disadvantaged part of Ohio, we have to go back in time. The plant site was at one time the location of Ormet Aluminum Corp, which began in the late 1950s and employed around 1,000 people when it closed in 2013. Prior to its closure, Ormet Aluminum Corp . in Monroe County used the same amount of electricity in a day as the city of Pittsburgh did.

And that was the problem, because the high consumption of electricity made the foundry economically obsolete. The company appealed to the Ohio Utilities Commission to grant tariff relief. Ormet said she needed them for the use of electricity, but they were turned down. The plant’s closure quickly followed the layoff of around 1,000 people.

The shutdown also came at a time when communities in southeast Ohio were hit by both the foreclosure mess and opioid addiction.

“This closure really had an impact on the local economy, it took a hit,” noted Ed Looman, project manager for the Appalachian Partnership for Economic Growth, at the time in 2017, when the property was sold to Long Ridge consortium for $ 30 million.

But the most interesting and complicated question is how this strange mix of technologies will be used to create renewable energy with little pollution. In some ways, this is, as Wholey notes, the old real estate adage that “location” is the most important factor when assessing the value of land.

There are two types of hydrogen production, and this Hannibal location has cheap access to both. Being on the Ohio River means it can draw water from the river, and “green” hydrogen is produced by splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen through electrolysis. Hydrogen is used by burning it along with other components like natural gas (or alone) and oxygen is vented into the atmosphere without negative impact.

The location is also in the middle of the Marcellus and Utica shale areas in Pennsylvania and Ohio. “Blue” hydrogen occurs when the chemical element is separated from natural gas using very high temperatures. Green hydrogen is two to three times more expensive than blue hydrogen, according to recent reports.

These types of proposals have not yet shown the way towards a deeply carbon-free gas system.

– Energy analyst Julie McNamara

This cost could decline as the technology adapts to increased use. However, on a practical basis, Long Ridge has an advantage over others in the country as the pipelines are nearby.

After start-up in late August with only natural gas as the power generation component, hydrogen will be added to the production mix in November, Long Ridge said. At first it will only be 5% hydrogen, but over time, using a specialized GE combustion turbine, it will initially burn between 15-20% hydrogen by volume, with the option of upgrading to 100% d hydrogen over time.

Many reasons why this state-of-the-art, futuristic powerhouse was built in such a remote location were very practical and surfaced when they were critically examined.

“The infrastructure situation was good,” Wholey said. “We thought it would be a good place to have a power station, since the transmission lines are already in place.”

Shortly after construction began, they learned that the plant’s GE gas turbine could also burn up to 20% hydrogen without modification. It made economic sense for future growth.

“The second thing we learned,” said Wholey, “is that a lot of potential customers, like data centers, wanted green power.” This is why it made sense, he said, “because the market is changing so these changes are not seen as economic and environmental novelty. This is what customers demand.

For some renewable energy experts, the use of hydrogen for energy production has not met the requirements that make it more “carbon-free” than what it replaces. Technology will still have to progress to burn hydrogen as a viable fuel rather than as a small percentage of a mixture of natural gas, especially due to nitrogen and oxygen emissions from the combustion of hydrogen, point out -they.

“These types of proposals have yet to point the way to a deeply carbon-free gas system,” Julie McNamara, senior energy analyst for the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in a recent interview. “Clean hydrogen will be limited in supply for the foreseeable future. Mixing it at low level into a pipeline slated to go electrified is just not the right way to go today. “

The Hannibal, Ohio power plant will not be “fully operational” on natural gas until early September, with hydrogen to be introduced in November, Wholey said. A recent report from Moody’s Investor Service indicated that Long Ridge has long-term economic potential, especially if national and state policies such as carbon taxes are enacted. By 2035, the report says, “hydrogen is likely to play an important role in the United States’ efforts to eliminate carbon emissions from the electricity sector.”

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