October 18, 2021

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A talk with NETL’s Brian Anderson about carbon caputre, the Appalachian Storage Hub and Biden’s Interagency Working Group

Oct. 3—MORGANTOWN — National Energy Technologies Laboratory Director Brian Anderson spoke with The Dominion Post and another reporter on Thursday about carbon capture, the green energy transition and the mission of President Biden’s Interagency Working Group.

The conversation occurred in conjunction with Anderson’s appearance as a featured speaker — via Zoom — at the tri-state Shale Insight industry conference in Erie, Pa.

Anderson said his Shale Insight talk focused largely on carbon capture and sequestration (CCUS) and “looking at the technologies we need to develop as our energy system transforms over the coming decades to a lower carbon energy system.”

During the transition, he said, renewables will continue to expand and “we’ll need lots of grid-scale storage. There’s a significant need to simply decarbonize our fossil energy resources, as they present a great on-demand, firm power production on the power side.”

Fossil fuels also power the transportation sector, he said, and decarbonizing transportation has to begin with fossil fuels.

NETL has been working over the last 25 years to develop CCUS technologies, he said. They’re starting to see a lot of commercial interest in deployment and they’re now working on transformational technologies to get CCUS into the market.

That sparked a brief discussion of making hydrogen, mostly used in refineries for now and considered a green fuel.

The chief means of producing “blue hydrogen, ” he said, is steam methane reforming, which requires burning natural gas to reform methane into hydrogen and carbon dioxide, from which they capture and sequester the CO2.

But they are exploring an alternate, cleaner way to produce blue hydrogen with microwaves. That method can produce hydrogen faster with less energy.

And there’s turquoise hydrogen, produced via “methane pyrolysis, ” which uses high temperatures to break the methane into hudrogen and solid carbon that doesn’t have to be sequestered, and can be used to make carbon fibers and other products.

“When we start putting all of these technological pieces together we can start to see the pieces of the puzzle coming together — what the energy system is going to look like in 30 years, ” Anderson said.

Appalachian Storage Hub In the context of Shale Insight, we asked Anderson how President Biden’s 2030 clean energy goals might affect the tri-state goal of an Appalachian Storage Hub to spark and serve a petrochemical industry boom here, to complement the Gulf Coast industry subject to severe weather disruptions.

Anderson said Biden’s goals need to be followed by market drivers, which haven’t been set yet — such as the cost of CO2 and renewable portfolio standards.

Right now, he said, there’s only once market incentive for reducing CO2 emissions from fossil fuel power plants, the 45Q tax credit. “That has resulted in a lot of interest from the private sector.” They are seeing some projects receive capital financing for that.

But the credit has a a sunset date and some limits, he said. When we see market mechanisms for capital markets to invest in CO2 reduction, “then we can start to see technologies advance and deploy, ” and the costs of deploying the technology will come down.

NETL has a Center for Sustainable Fuels and Chemicals, Anderson said, focused on technologies that go into decarbonizing petrochemical and plastic wastes to create a circular economy built on increased reuse and recycling, and more more efficient cracking and production.

The fleet of crackers around the world, he said, are at a disadvantage because it costs more to retrofit than to build new. This region has a little bit of an advantage if new build-out has advanced technologies with a lower carbon footprint.

Interagency Working Group Anderson is executive director of Biden’s Interagency Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities and Economic Revitalization (IWG), which pools the efforts of 11 federal agencies “to ensure the shift to a clean energy economy creates good-paying union jobs, spurs economic revitalization, remediates environmental degradation, and supports energy workers in coal, oil and gas and power plant communities across the country.”

The group just met on Sept. 27, Anderson said, and news can be expected on efforts of each to work with coal and natural gas communities to aid them through the energy transition. The IWG is holding stakeholder events in energy communities across the country “to understand their vision of the future and identify agency resources ” to support them.

The co-chairs of the IWG, Anderson said, are Biden’s national climate advisor and economic policy assistant. That determines the focus of the group. “It’s jobs, jobs and climate hand in hand. We’re not driving climate policy, we’re driving how climate policy and jobs policy go hand in hand.”

Because navigating aid from 11 agencies can be daunting at best, and most small energy communities — Welch or Matewan for instance — don’t have grant writers sitting around, IWG is also creating an integrated process where requests will go to IWG, which will then navigate the other agencies, he said.

“This is something that has been a passion of mine, to find the right pathway for us to navigate our future, to create economic diversity, create value from the resources we have, and create sustainable — economically and socially and family sustainable futures. It’s a challenging problem, ” he said.

But the agencies’ commitment has been astounding, he said. They need to come to the table to make a difference because the transition is affecting real people. “If we’re going to tackle the climate crisis on one hand that’s going to force folks out of jobs, we can’t just do it and leave communities behind.”

Sierra Club and CCUS In conjunction with the conversation with Anderson on CCUS, we asked Jim Kotcon, with the Sierra Club West Virginia chapter, to offer Sierra’s view on CCUS — which he abbreviates with the alternate CCS.

He wrote in an email exchange, “The Sierra Club recognizes that Carbon Capture and Sequestration will likely be needed for hard-to-decarbonize industries such as steel or cement, and that CCS with biofuels will be an important mechanism for ‘negative emissions’ — pulling CO2 out of the atmosphere and burying it underground.

“CCS for traditional fossil fuel power plants is unlikely to be cost-effective, as renewables are already cheaper than fossil fuels in the majority of the U.S., and adding the cost of CCS will only exacerbate that difference. As the cost of both renewables and battery storage continue to decline, while the cost of fossil fuels goes up, the Sierra Club position is to oppose all new fossil fuel-fired power plants and most fossil fuel infrastructure, as those dollars are better spent developing carbon-free renewables.

“An excellent example of that is playing out right now before the Public Service Commission. ApCo [Appalachian Power ] is seeking to require WV ratepayers to pay the full cost for upgrades to the Mitchell, Mountaineer, and John Amos power plants. Those plants are co-owned with Kentucky and Virginia, both of whom denied that request and recognize that further investments are not cost-effective. We oppose forcing WV ratepayers to bear the full cost of those plant upgrades and, in effect, subsidizing electricity for out-of-state customers.”

TWEET David Beard @dbeardtdp EMAIL dbeard @dominionpost.com

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