NPPD plans to replace 125-MW coal boiler with hydrogen technology

Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD) on April 17 announced an ambitious plan to replace a 125-MW coal-fired boiler at its Sheldon power plant in Hallam, Neb., with electricity derived from cleaner-burning hydrogen fuel.

The hydrogen will be produced by Monolith Materials as a co-product from its production of carbon black using natural gas as a feedstock. Officials expect this would be the largest utility-scale use of hydrogen technology to generate electricity thus far.

The companies expect to break-ground on their respective operations in 2016, with an expected completion date of 2019. There is no cost estimate yet because some boiler design details are still being completed.

While NPPD has not yet applied for needed government permits, it has had extensive early discussions with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality about the proposal, an NPPD spokesperson said.

Monolith is manufacturing company that produces hydrogen as a byproduct in its patented process for production of carbon black, according to an NPPD news release. When burned, the hydrogen fuel produces zero greenhouse gas emissions. Through this agreement, NPPD is expected to reduce CO2 emissions at Sheldon Station by 1.1 million tons per year.

The Sheldon Station boiler using hydrogen as a fuel will continue to be capable of generating 125 MW of electricity for NPPD’s customers. The boiler conversion is also expected to result in a dramatic reduction in other types of air emissions, as well as aide in NPPD’s maintaining service as a low-cost energy producer for Nebraskans, NPPD said.

Monolith will build its new manufacturing facility adjacent to Sheldon Station so NPPD can easily access the hydrogen. Monolith will power its new manufacturing facility with electricity from Norris Public Power District, headquartered in Beatrice, Neb.

The Monolith website also refers to the Sheldon project as “Olive Creek 1.”

This initiative is not dependent on federal government grants or loan guarantees. Instead, innovative technology, affordable electricity and the country’s vast supply of low cost natural gas allows for the production of products at market competitive prices, the organizations said.

NPPD calls this breakthrough achievement

 “We are embarking on a new chapter in the history of Sheldon Station and electric generation in Nebraska with the decision by Monolith Materials to locate in Nebraska,” said NPPD President and CEO Pat Pope. “Sheldon Station has always been a place of firsts – the first nuclear plant in Nebraska and now the first utility scale hydrogen powered generator. We are very proud of this facility and the people who work here.”

The addition of hydrogen as a fuel source will further NPPD’s diverse generation portfolio and will bring its carbon-free energy sources closer to 50%, while reducing air emissions from Unit 2 at Sheldon to close to zero.

Monolith Materials uses its patented process to make carbon black, which is common material found in thousands of products Americans use every day including tires, rubber and plastics, printing inks, and batteries. Monolith uses natural gas as feedstock in its process instead of oil or coal-tar as in the conventional process. A co-product of its manufacturing process is plentiful hydrogen, which NPPD intends to use to generate electric energy.

“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. This private business-led solution has the potential to support 600 new jobs and hundreds of millions of new capital investment in the state of Nebraska,” said Nebraska Gov. (R) Pete Ricketts.

The plant was constructed between 1958 and 1963 as an experimental nuclear power plant for the Atomic Energy Commission. After the Commission (today known as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission) acquired the information it needed, the nuclear portion of the facility was decommissioned and the equipment and parts were sent to other nuclear plants or disposal sites. What couldn’t be moved was sealed and buried in large vaults beneath the earth’s surface at the plant. The burial site is regularly monitored by the Nebraska Department of Health.

Today, Sheldon Station’s two boilers can generate 225 MW, according to an NPPD website. Sheldon Station’s current generation record was set in 2002 at 1,442,114 MWh.

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.