Hydrogen power plant proposed for former uranium enrichment facility in Southern Ohio

·3 min read
A Texas company has proposed building a hydrogen-fueled power plant at the site of the former Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Piketon, Ohio.
A Texas company has proposed building a hydrogen-fueled power plant at the site of the former Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Piketon, Ohio.

A hydrogen-fueled power plant is being proposed for the site of the toxic Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in the southern Ohio community of Piketon.

The Southern Ohio Diversification Initiative, an economic development group working with Ohio University and the Texas company Newpoint Gas, hopes the project will produce clean energy and replace some of the jobs lost when the uranium enrichment facility shuttered in 2001.

The Texas gas producer has signed a letter of intent to buy the property, which the economic development group owns, the organization said.

The facility would generate 300 megawatts of power, employ at least 500 people, and provide hydrogen needed to manufacture products like cement and ammonia, which have a carbon-heavy production process, said Newpoint Gas CEO Wiley Rhodes.

Newpoint Gas will procure hydrogen from natural gas and wants to get the facility online by the beginning of 2027, he said. He noted some details have not been worked out.

More: Hydrogen energy could bring jobs to Ohio. Environmentalists skeptical it's really green

Economists and environmentalists have questioned the cost-effectiveness of hydrogen power. Critics point to studies suggesting the money needed to procure hydrogen is better spent on solar and wind power.

“It's feasible but it has to be done at a very large scale,” Rhodes said.

The power generation in concert with the hydrogen sold to manufacturers will make the facility sustainable, he said.

The Piketon plant closed after an investigation logged years of lax safety practices. The facility produced the raw materials needed for nuclear bombs, and the surrounding communities still experience higher-than-usual rates of cancer.

The Southern Ohio Diversification Initiativetook over the property from the federal government, and the Ohio EPA had to certify that the property was safe before it approved the transfer, said Kevin Shoemaker, the organization’s in-house counsel.

Community organizations that represent Piketon-area residents voiced support for the proposal early this week.

"We as a community have supported the reindustrialization efforts for a very long time," said Jennifer Chandler, councilwoman for the village of Piketon and the president of the Scioto Valley-Piketon Area Council of Governments.

But she said officials seek to better understand the project.

"Of course, we are always concerned about what does a project mean in terms of emissions or wastewater discharges, and we want to understand what risks are associated with the processes that will be employed," Chandler said.

Hydrogen power is a controversial weapon in the fight against climate change. While hydrogen itself gives off no emissions, it is most commonly procured from planet-warming natural gas through carbon capture, and some critics say it contributes to global warming and perpetuates fossil fuel use.

More: Could captured carbon dioxide be stored underground in Ohio to fight climate change?

Hydrogen power produces 20% more emissions than fossil fuels because extracting hydrogen requires so much energy, according to a study from researchers at Stanford and Cornell universities last year.

Supporters of hydrogen power dispute the study’s findings. The Midwest Hydrogen Alliance, a coalition of businesses, universities and public agencies, said the research underestimated the effectiveness of carbon capture and overestimated the probability of methane leaks. The Stanford and Cornell researchers have defended their work.

“It’s going to be as green as possible,” Rhodes said of the proposed hydrogen plant.

He noted that the technology needed to capture hydrogen is decades old.

"They're all proven processes that can be implemented and maintained in a very reliable way," Rhodes said.

pcooley@dispatch.com

@PatrickACooley

This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Hydrogen power facility planned for site of former Piketon plant