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NETL Study Assesses Appalachian Region’s Potential To Develop a Hydrogen Economy
The Appalachian Region

The Appalachian region is well suited to be one of the nation’s clean energy hydrogen hubs because of its natural gas resources, infrastructure, storage capacity, workforce and industrial demand, according to a recently released report conducted by NETL.

NETL Director Brian Anderson, Ph.D., said the report, “Appalachian Hydrogen Infrastructure Analysis,” studied how development of a hydrogen industry in Appalachia offers a path to sustainable long-term growth.

“The Appalachian region was hard hit by declining coal production, but hydrogen offers a path to sustainable long-term growth,” Anderson said. “With this study, NETL evaluated how the region’s current natural gas transportation and storage infrastructure might be adapted for use with hydrogen.”

An alternative fuel that has very high energy content by weight, hydrogen consists of only one proton and one electron, and can be used as both an energy carrier and energy source. Hydrogen can be stored and delivered for energy just as natural gas or can be delivered to end users as a building block for chemical production.

According to the Appalachian Regional Commission, Appalachia is made up of 423 counties across 13 states and spans 206,000 square miles, from southern New York to northern Mississippi. The region’s 26.1 million residents live in parts of Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia, and all of West Virginia.

The report’s authors, said development of Appalachian hydrogen infrastructure will help create new clean energy jobs, revitalize distressed communities, advance environmental justice and help achieve the administration’s goal of a net-zero carbon emissions in the electricity sector by 2035.

“Hydrogen is being positioned as a critical solution in efforts to decarbonize the global economy,” according to the authors. “Hydrogen produced from fossil energy can be a bridge in the clean energy transition. The study demonstrates that Appalachia has the resources and infrastructure in and around its borders to lead a clean energy revolution by using natural gas with carbon capture and storage to produce and store hydrogen.”

The study concluded that hydrogen could replace fossil fuels in many aspects of the energy economy, delivering high-quality industrial process heat, on-site industrial electricity generation, large-scale electricity generation, transportation, and as a building block for thousands of downstream chemicals. While there are multiple pathways to produce hydrogen from water, biomass and hydrocarbons, the most economical way is currently from natural gas through steam methane reforming and autothermal reforming.

The study noted that the region possesses enough natural gas resources to feed a hydrogen production future.

“With a combination of energy exports, long-term reduction in natural gas consumption for electricity through grid decarbonization, and utilization of biomass opportunities to produce renewable natural gas, there would be a significant amount of natural gas as feedstock for hydrogen production plants in the region,” the study reports.

Hydrogen storage potential was also highlighted by the study that noted “there is enough potential CO2 storage for 60 plants producing around 550 tonnes per day to last 28 years.”

The study specifically notes that the region also possesses sufficient pipeline, truck, barge and rail distribution infrastructure to grow a hydrogen economy from the region’s abundant fossil fuels reserves.

The study estimated the number of additional jobs by area that could be supported by advanced hydrogen infrastructure development for every million dollars in output generated by industries involved in the hydrogen supply chain. The estimates included —

  • Oil and gas extraction: one job per million U.S. dollars ($M) in industry output.
  • Mining support activities for mining: four jobs per $M in industry output.
  • Utilities: one job per $M in industry output.
  • Petroleum and coal products manufacturing: four jobs per $M in industry output.
  • Chemical products manufacturing: three jobs per $M in industry output.
  • Fabricated metal product manufacturing: less than one job per $M in industry output.
  • Computer and electronic products manufacturing: one job per $M in industry output.
  • Rail transportation: two jobs per $M in industry output.
  • Water transportation: one job per $M in industry output.
  • Truck transportation: six jobs per $M in industry output.
  • Pipeline transportation: one job per $M in industry output.
  • Warehousing and storage: nine jobs per $M in industry output.

NETL’s hydrogen research covers a range of topics associated with the drive to put hydrogen to work to meet the nation’s energy needs and decarbonization goals, and it maintains a hydrogen production, transportation and storage research portfolio that makes it a key player in U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) initiatives to put hydrogen on the front lines of the effort to attain net-zero carbon emission goals in the power sector by 2035 and the broader economy by 2050, while meeting DOE’s Hydrogen Shot goal of $1 per 1 kilogram of hydrogen in one decade.

NETL is a DOE national laboratory that drives innovation and delivers technological solutions for an environmentally sustainable and prosperous energy future. With its world-class talent and research facilities, NETL is ensuring affordable, abundant and reliable energy that drives a robust economy and national security, while developing technologies to manage carbon across the full life cycle, enabling environmental sustainability for all Americans.