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West Virginia Power Plant Delays Hydrogen Conversion, Extends Coal Usage

2 Sept 2023

West Virginia – The Pleasants Power Station in West Virginia, which had been facing closure since 2018, has been brought back online, and state officials suggest it will continue burning coal for another 18-24 months before converting to hydrogen production. California-based Omnis Fuel Technologies, the new owner of the plant, had promised to build a hydrogen production facility and convert the plant's boilers to run on hydrogen.

A Delay in Green Hydrogen Plans

Omnis Fuel Technologies acquired the Pleasants Power Station with grand plans to transition it to green hydrogen. However, it has surprised many by resuming coal-fired electricity generation for the next two years. This delay in the green hydrogen transition has raised questions about environmental impact and emissions.

Omnis' Hydrogen Production Method

Omnis intends to employ a patented "quantum pyrolysis" method, subjecting hydrocarbons like coal to extreme temperatures exceeding 3,000°C to produce hydrogen and solid carbon, specifically graphite. This graphite can find applications in batteries, nuclear reactors, and refractories. However, it remains unclear whether the energy used in this process will be renewable, and the extent to which greenhouse gases will be captured during the conversion process.

Environmental Concerns

Omnis' decision to continue coal burning raises concerns about emissions. According to the company's projections, if the plant continues to burn coal, it could emit approximately 3.2 million tonnes of greenhouse gases annually. This is significant, especially in a state like West Virginia, where 91% of electricity generation comes from coal-fired power plants.

West Virginia's Energy Landscape

Historically a coal mining hub, West Virginia has a predominantly coal-based energy sector, with limited contributions from renewables and fossil gas. This energy profile is at odds with national goals of achieving 100% "carbon pollution-free" electricity generation by 2035.

Hydrogen Becoming a Priority

Despite its coal-rich history, West Virginia officials have begun exploring hydrogen as a potential energy source. The state has applied for up to $1 billion in federal funding as part of the Appalachian Regional Clean Hydrogen Hub initiative.

Promises and Challenges of Hydrogen Conversion

While converting former coal power plants to hydrogen facilities offers practical advantages, such as existing grid connections and water resources, the delay in transitioning to green hydrogen highlights the challenges of such conversions. Critics argue that prolonging the use of fossil fuel-fired facilities can hinder emissions reduction efforts in the long term.

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