Power district converting coal plant unit to use hydrogen

 Power district converting coal plant unit to use hydrogen

Caption Sheldon Station. Courtesy NPPD

HALLAM, Neb. (AP) - Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD) and a California-based manufacturer said they will collaborate on a project that will provide cleaner-burning hydrogen to a nearby power plant that will convert one of its coal-fired units, the district announced on Friday.

One of the two units at Sheldon Station near Hallam in southeast Nebraska will be converted to the hydrogen fuel by 2019, officials said. The hydrogen will come from a carbon black plant that is expected to be built and operating by 2016, said officials for Monolith Materials, of Redwood City, California.

"This is an example of the next generation of American innovation and energy production that will also have a positive economic impact in Nebraska and deliver clean and affordable energy to the state," said Gov. Pete Ricketts.

Burning hydrogen instead of coal will cut emissions from Sheldon's Unit 2 to near zero, officials said.

The environmental group Sierra Club applauded the plan and encouraged the district to continue down a path toward less pollution.

"Starting the shift away from coal is an important first step for NPPD to reduce its pollution," said Graham Jordison, a field organizer with the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign in Nebraska. "However, the fact remains that NPPD will continue to burn coal from a unit at the Sheldon coal plant," he said.

"We urge NPPD to continue what it started today and complete a thorough evaluation of its opportunity to invest in modernizing the way we get our power by committing to shift away from coal to clean energy," Jordison said.

The project will be built in phases and will create about 600 jobs, including about 100 at the plant, which will be built adjacent to Sheldon Station, said Monolith co-founder Rob Hanson.

Hydrogen is a byproduct of the process to make carbon black, which is a fine black powder used to produce rubber, plastics and other products and materials. Hanson said most of the carbon black used in the United States is imported, so the new plant will bring more of that production back onshore.

Pat Pope, the power district's president and CEO, said the conversion project will make the publicly owned district "the first large-scale utility operation to generate electricity through the use of hydrogen and something in which NPPD takes pride in having the opportunity to lead the way."

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