Gas company unveils $1.5bn project in US to produce clean hydrogen and synthetic aviation fuel from coal mine methane



Pittsburgh-based natural-gas company CNX Resources has unveiled plans for a $1.5bn project that would produce “clean” hydrogen and synthetic aviation fuel from fugitive coal mine methane and natural gas.


The facility, on land owned by Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT), has the support of prominent local Democrat politicians in Pennsylvania, including Governor Josh Shapiro and Senator Bob Casey, but the developer acknowledges that the project will only move forward if the Biden administration allows CMM  to be used to access the 45V clean hydrogen production tax credit of up to $3/kg of H2.


CNX and its co-developer, blue hydrogen producer KeyState, have signed a letter of intent to advance the PIT Hydrogen & SAF Hub “if the US Department of Treasury enables a pathway for ultra-low carbon intensity fugitive coal mine methane under the 45V”.


The project would use autothermal reforming (ATR) of captured CMM — which would otherwise be vented into the atmosphere from legacy and abandoned coal mines — to produce a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide (and usually carbon dioxide) known as syngas. The H2 can either be removed at this point, or the syngas can be used in a Fischer-Tropsch reactor to produce liquid hydrocarbon fuels.


The planned facility would produce up to 68,000 tonnes of hydrogen annually, or up to 70 million gallons (265 million litres) of synthetic aviation fuel a year, with the flexibility to “produce both products simultaneously at lower varying individual volumes and customise production to meet specific demands”, which might include H2 for local heavy trucks and other hard-to-abate sectors.


“A facility of the proposed size and scope would produce enough alternative fuel to supplant nearly all traditional jet fuel consumption at PIT at a price on par with conventional Jet A [aviation fuel],” says CNX, although it is not clear how the normally expensive process of producing synthetic fuel could be cost-competitive with existing jet fuel in the US.


“The innovations contemplated for the PIT hydrogen and SAF Hub have the potential to produce the lowest-carbon, lowest-cost, large-scale aviation fuel in the world,” adds KeyState CEO Perry Babb.


However, the fine print shows that the CMM — methane emissions from legacy and abandoned coal mines — would be blended with on-site natural gas. Under 45V rules, upstream methane emissions from natural-gas production — which are often high in the US — are part of the calculations that determine which level of V45 support a project can access.


There also do not appear to be any plans to capture carbon dioxide emissions, raising further questions about how clean the hydrogen produced would actually be.


The developers seem to be arguing that because the project would result in less methane emissions — with methane being 25 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide — net emissions from the project would enable it to quality for the 45V allowance of up to 4kg of CO2-equivalent for every 1kg of H2 produced.


But the forthcoming Treasury regulations on the 45V would need to be clear that such CO2e calculations are allowed — potentially pitting Pennsylvania Democrats against the Democratic Biden administration in a presidential election year in which Pennsylvania is a key swing state.


“We're proving that you don't have to choose between protecting the planet and protecting jobs – and the partnership between KeyState Energy, CNX Resources, and Pittsburgh International Airport will create thousands of jobs and cut fuel costs for airlines, all while reducing pollution and making our communities safer and healthier,” said Governor Shapiro.


The developers are seeking a federal FAST SAF grant to conduct a logistics study “to inform a project hub and transportation network investment strategy... [into] how fuels produced at PIT can be cost-effectively transported to nearby airports”.


Source: HydrogenInsight

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