June 29, 2023 • Paul Rodden • Season: 2023 • Episode: 226
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In episode 226, A coal plant in West Virginia could be the launching pad of the future of hydrogen and graphite development... if it's legitimate. I'll go through the article and give my thoughts on today's hydrogen podcast.
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A coal plant in West Virginia could be the launching pad of the future of hydrogen and graphite development... if it's legitimate. I'll go through the article and give my thoughts on today's hydrogen podcast.
So the big questions in the energy industry today are, how is hydrogen the primary driving force behind the evolution of energy? Where is capital being deployed for hydrogen projects globally? And where are the best investment opportunities for early adopters who recognize the importance of hydrogen? I will address the critical issues and give you the information you need to deploy capital. Those are the questions that will unlock the potential of hydrogen and this podcast will give you the answers. My name is Paul Rodden, and welcome to the hydrogen podcast.
In an article in eenews.net. Benjamin Storrow writes West Virginia bets on hydrogen in gamble to save coal plant, Benjamin writes, a little known company that enjoys the backing of West Virginia's top political leaders is in talks to turn one of the state's largest coal plants into a clean energy behemoth. Omnis Global Technologies, a California based firm says it would convert Pleasants power station to run on hydrogen, eliminating a major source of planet warming greenhouse gases. It says the hydrogen will come from a plant next door. Omnis plans to produce graphite, a highly sought mineral for electric vehicle batteries.
The plan is as audacious as it is untested. Underscoring both the promise and peril facing coal states as they look to new technologies to fill the gap left by a fading coal industry. West Virginia leaders eager to save Pleasants power station, a top buyer of the state's coal include Republican Governor Jim justice and Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, who will face off next year in one of the country's most watched Senate races. The pair have embraced a residential construction and critical minerals venture that Omnis launched in this state during the last year, but endless you study the electricity and critical minerals markets have raised doubts about the proposal, saying they've never heard of Omnis and questioned whether its plans are technically feasible. And a quote from Seth Feaster, an analyst at the Institute for Energy economics and financial analysis said this is a company that as far as we know, has never run a coal plant. And they face the additional challenges of converting it in a way that appears unprecedented and untested. This he said as he raised concerns about Omnis's his plan in a note earlier this month, the think tank has criticized attempted coal plant rescues in other states.
And as the coal industry has contracted in recent years, states reliant on the fuel have turned to new clean energy technologies with little history of being implemented at commercial scale. In New Mexico, the city of Farmington backed to Long Shot plan to capture and store carbon at a retiring coal plant. The plan was ultimately abandoned after the plant shut down. Wyoming is betting on nuclear to replace coal. A Bill Gates back startup is developing a nuclear facility using a new reactor design at one coal plant and studying plans to convert five more coal plants to nuclear. In West Virginia Omnis says it's in negotiations to buy Pleasants power station from energy transition and environmental management which is a Texas company that had bought the plant with the intention of demolishing it. The 1300 megawatt coal plant shut down on June 1 After a concerted effort from West Virginia officials to keep it running. And a quote from Simon Hudson, who co owns Omnis with his wife said in an interview. We believe in this enough that we've written a very big check to acquire one very large power plant. Hudson said his company has signed a letter of intent to buy the facility has secured financing for the acquisition and hopes to close on the deal by the end of June to take control of the plant by August 1.
He declined to disclose the purchase price and e t e m representatives did not respond to requests for comment. The fate of Pleasants power station has already drawn the attention of Justice and State lawmakers at their urging, the State Public Service Commission ordered West Virginia's largest utility First Energy Corporation to examine buying the plant and regulatory filings last month. First Energy said it was holding off because Omnis was trying to finish its purchase of the plant from ETM. Hodgson said Omnis intends to build a so called Quantum reformer next to the power plant. That facility would heat hydrocarbons at extremely high temperatures to produce synthetic graphite and generate large quantities of hydrogen as a byproduct. In turn, the hydrogen would Fuel Pleasants power station to produce electricity. Hudson also said we think there's an opportunity to save the coal fired plants by retrofitting them. We can't keep shutting down power plants and not expect the cost of power to go up.
We're trying to preserve these plants wherever we can by producing two products. Hodson traces his roots to his family's concrete business in Salt Lake City, and claims to have developed a concrete technology used in the construction of One World Trade in Manhattan. He was the CEO of Earth shell corporation, which made biodegradable food packaging for McDonald's before filing for bankruptcy in 2007. Citing an inability to secure sustainable long term funding, Hudson said he left the company before it went under. Omnis global technologies set It specializes in developing licensing and commercializing innovative technologies to aid in the areas of clean and sustainable energy, affording housing organic farming and biodegradable plastics this according to a filing with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which would need to approve its purchase of Pleasants power station. Graphite is one of the most sought after materials using electric vehicle batteries. The Biden administration is seeking to make a priority of domestic graphite production, which is now dominated by China.
And in 2022, the Department of Energy announced a $2.8 billion in grants to makers of battery components, including several firms specializing in graphite production Omnis is not on that list. Hudson said his company has developed a form of pyrolysis, a process by which hydrocarbons are heated at extremely high temperatures to make synthetic graphite that the world's largest graphite maker is using for applications in the steel industry. He declined to name the graphite company citing nondisclosure agreements with vendors. A critical minerals analyst greeted his claims with skepticism. In a quote from George Miller, a senior analyst at benchmark minerals intelligence, which is a London based research firm that tracks metals markets, I've never heard of Omnis or Simon. Now China dominates both the mining and naturally occurring graphite and the production of synthetic graphite. And so pyrolysis and graphite are used for specialty scientific applications. This is going according to Miller, but he expressed doubt that there's a large enough market to support its use by large graphite makers. Now using hydrogen to fuel a power plant can be similarly tricky because it burns much faster and is less stable than natural gas. General Electric Mitsubishi power and Siemens energy have reported demonstration projects where they have blended natural gas with hydrogen to run existing gas plants.
Mitsubishi is working on a project in Utah that aims to burn 100% hydrogen by 2045, and a quote from Feaster the IE FAA analysts said, the whole thing is really mystifying me. Let's say you're producing graphite, do you really need a 1300 megawatt power plant to do the graphite production that strikes me is oversized, the other companies that produce graphite aren't buying power plants. Hodson acknowledge the challenges facing other graphite makers and power companies but said on this has technology to overcome the obstacles. After spending 12 years refining its pyrolysis process, pyrolysis normally generates large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions, but Hodson said he has developed a way to eliminate those by heating material at temperatures above 5000 degrees Fahrenheit Omnis also intends to use turbine technology that can burn 100% Hydrogen developed by Zeeco incorporated an Oklahoma based firm this again according to Hodson, a spokesperson for Zeeco, which described itself as a world leader in making low emission, hydrogen fired burners confirmed in an email that it is working with Omnis and had sent a team to Pleasance power station, to quote confirm the viability of converting to hydrogen.
The analysts doubts haven't dimmed Omnis's reception among West Virginia's most powerful leaders. Omnis has launched a series of business ventures in West Virginia since the start of 2022. Justice attended a groundbreaking ceremony in March of 2022 for Omnis building technologies, which is building a $40 million facility to manufacture housing materials in southern West Virginia. When the governor set out a news release announcing the plan. It included a statement from Manchin who said Omnis was quote revolutionising the industry of residential construction. In November Hodson appeared at a public event with justice to announce Omnis sublimation and recovery technologies plan to invest $60 million in Wyoming County to extract rare earth minerals from coal waste. impoundments. Senator Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican called the announcement exciting and said, quote, the jobs to be created with this partnership will bring even more opportunity to this region. Hodson said he was originally drawn to West Virginia by its mini coal waste impoundments, which he saw as potential sources for critical minerals. But he decided to expand Omnis as investments to other areas. After driving across the state.
He called West Virginia one of the most impoverished societies he had ever seen. Now, Hudson said, retrofitting the Pleasance power station would require swapping out its burner for one that can burn a hydrogen and installing a new air handling system to address emissions of the acid rain causing nitrogen oxides. He estimated the retrofit would take nine to 12 months and said the company would burn coal to generate power while the upgrades were made. He also said the quantum reformer will produce 200,000 tons of hydrogen annually, which is enough for Pleasants power station to run at its full listed capacity. But he did acknowledge the doubts facing the company saying Omnis, we'll need a few more months to prove that it can deliver. And lastly, he said, then it will be done and it will be proven. Okay, so a lengthy piece, but most assuredly one very much in need of our attention. These old coal plants will need a new life as they retire. And this technology has the potential to give it that refresh. Assuming the technology is legitimate. There are a handful of other pyrolysis hydrogen companies in the world. And none of them have approached this application. Now, that could be for many reasons.
But it's worth speculation as to why we haven't heard of any trial or demo applications before this. And this isn't even a trial or demo application. This is a full project. That's not to say Omnis's technology is incapable of doing this. But to invest what could potentially be eight to nine figures on retrofitting this plant seems incredibly risky. Not much information is available online on Omnis. So it's very hard to tell just where they've developed this technology, how reliable it is, or how scalable it is. Now, absolutely, if this project works out and Omnis is able to retrofit this coal plant to run on hydrogen while creating graphite. That's a perfect way to bring legacy coal plants into the future. But for now, I will remain skeptical until more information becomes available.
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