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Already home to a nascent 176-turbine wind farm off the coast of Virginia Beach, Hampton Roads is expanding its foray into the clean energy industry with the creation of a green hydrogen production facility at Newport News’ Tech Center Research Park.

Last spring, the Blacksburg-based Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center, which operates the 40-acre park near Jefferson Lab, joined forces with the Hampton Roads Alliance and the cities of Newport News, Norfolk, Portsmouth and Virginia Beach to develop a $6.5 million green hydrogen fuel program aimed at sparking regional commercial development. The partnership received a $1.6 million grant from GO Virginia and $5 million from ITA International, Genplant, W.M. Jordan and the City of Newport News to develop the 5,000- to 10,000-square-foot demonstration lab, which is expected to be in operation in a year to 18 months.

Green hydrogen, produced from renewable energy sources such as Dominion Energy’s offshore wind farm, is created by separating hydrogen atoms from water molecules. It is expected to be a $410 billion global industry by 2030.

“Hydrogen is a clean fuel source that can burn 12 to 18 hours without stopping,” says Brett Malone, president and CEO of the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center. “There are zero carbon emissions when burning hydrogen. It’s another tool to help the commonwealth reduce its carbon footprint and add energy capacity.”

Virginia’s 2022 Energy Plan includes directives to invest in hydrogen, which can be used to decarbonize large industrial, maritime and long-haul freight operations.

The center, which includes three to five hydrogen application projects to spur local industry investments and a workforce training program, is expected to lead to the creation of 230 jobs over the next five years. Malone says more than 30 applications have been identified, with initial efforts focusing on maritime and port operations, where vessels and trucks could be converted to run on hydrogen.

Officials with the Hampton Roads Alliance, a regional economic development organization, say energy transition will attract more industries and jobs to the area as businesses seek to incorporate clean energy in their operations.

“We saw the opportunity in Hampton Roads, starting with offshore wind, to be a leader in transitions and renewable energy sources,” says Matt Smith, the alliance’s director of energy and water technology. “This is part of a bigger picture of being an innovative region that’s attractive to businesses that want to use green energy.”  

As originally published in Virginia Business by Elizabeth Cooper