September 8, 2023 - Now that it is back in operation, officials with the company running the Pleasants Power Plant Thursday briefed state energy officials on the next steps toward running on hydrogen.
Simon Hudson with Quantum Pleasants, owned by California-based Omnis Fuel Technologies, provided an update on the transformation of the plant from a coal-fired electric generation facility to a plant that will run on clean hydrogen to members of the West Virginia Public Energy Authority.
“We believe that the generation of electricity from hydrogen is probably one of the smartest things that we can do as a society. … We’re going to use coal as our preferred hydrocarbon to generate that electricity,” Hudson said.
Quantum Pleasants, the new name of the Pleasants Power Plant located near the Wood County border south of St. Marys and Belmont, resumed operations last Wednesday as a wholesale merchant power generator, its smokestacks billowing carbon dioxide for the first time since the plant shut down at the end of May.
Omnis Fuel Technologies purchased Pleasants Power at the beginning of August from Texas-based Energy Transition and Environmental Management, a company that planned to demolish the 1,278-megawatt coal-fired plant in June. Energy Harbor, formerly FirstEnergy Solutions, was leasing the plant from ETEM and produced power up to the end of May and maintained the plant through the end of June.
According to Hudson, ETEM was motivated to sell Pleasants Power after the West Virginia Legislature passed Senate Bill 609 requiring any company desiring to decommission or demolish an existing power plant to obtain approval from the Public Energy Authority.
“(ETEM) weren’t interested in preserving the plant.,” Hudson said. “They were going to shut the plant down because of the requirements of Senate Bill 609, that any group who was going to shut down a power plant had to demonstrate to the satisfaction of the people of West Virginia that shutting it down was in the best interest of the people and of the state. They couldn’t tear it down without doing that.”
Operating under the new name Quantum Pleasants, the plant will continue to burn coal and sell its electricity on the regional wholesale market while Omnis spends the next 12-24 months converting the plant to run on hydrogen produced onsite by the burning of coal, separating the hydrogen gas and taking the remaining carbon byproduct to create graphene, or graphite, for use in manufacturing. The plant also will continue to take the remaining combustion residual byproducts from the burning of coal to produce gypsum for drywall and other products.
According to Hudson, 35% of the energy released from the burning of one ton of coal comes from hydrogen. Pleasants Power annually burns 3.5 million tons of coal.
Upon completion, Pleasants Power could burn between 8 million and 10 million tons annually to produce enough hydrogen to power the plant and produce 6 million tons of graphite, Hudson said. The company is working to acquire 30 more acres near the plant, he said.
“Since 2008, there have been more patents filed by more scientists, laboratories, and companies on the potential application of graphene than any other material in the history of the world, from making furniture to making fibers, to making roads, to making bridges, redoing our construction surfaces with material that will be stable and doesn’t rust and doesn’t corrode for 3,000 years,” Hudson said.
“This is a marvelous material that we’ve had all around us for centuries, and we’ve never known how to produce it in large quantities,” Hudson continued. “If we can grasp that concept, then the generation of energy can yield a significant byproduct, a material that can then be used in a wide variety of applications to give us a much more stable, much more green performance economy.”
According to the Department of Commerce, the project represents an $800 million investment in the state and could create a projected 600 jobs when completed. Hudson said the company plans to build 36 modules at the plant, with one module up and running in the next six months to demonstrate the process of converting coal to hydrogen and graphite and be a training site for employees.
Hydrogen is a clean energy source used for manufacturing, transportation and fuel cells. The byproduct of hydrogen is water vapor.
Pleasants Power will be the first existing power plant converted to run on hydrogen, and Hudson said it will make Pleasants Power the third largest oxygen producing plant in the world.
However, some doubt Omnis’ claims. Sean O’Leary, a senior researcher with the Ohio River Valley Institute, said the scale of the project makes him skeptical about the company’s claims. According to O’Leary, just producing between 3 million tons and 3.5 million tons of graphite would be equal to the global consumption of graphite currently.
“Personally, I’m skeptical of the enterprise,” O’Leary said. “The plan is audacious to the point of absurdity, especially in light of the inherent unpredictability and, therefore, risk associated with a market disruption of this scale and of the hundreds of millions if not billions that will have to be spent merely to demonstrate the commercial viability of the unproven pyrolytic process they propose to employ.”
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved the transfer of Pleasants Power to Omnis last month, along with Potomac Edison, MonPower and West Penn Power filing an amended interconnection and operating agreement with FERC noting the transfer of Pleasants Power to Omnis.
The plant, which first went online in the late 1970s, was first slated to be shut down in 2018, but that deactivation was delayed to 2022. Another deactivation deadline was put on hold again in 2019 thanks to a tax break approved by the Legislature, but once again the plant was slated for shutdown by June 1.