Call it a transformational fuel strategy for the transportation industry to lower costs, reduce emissions, and create jobs—with Pittsburgh leading the way.
On Friday, Pittsburgh International Airport officials announced a new phase of their ongoing partnership with locally based natural gas exploration, production, midstream, and technology company CNX Resources Corp. aimed at further reducing carbon emissions in the transportation industry and related sectors by using natural gas produced at the airport and converting it into alternative fuel with CNX proprietary technology.
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“We feel that natural gas and derivative products provide a path for the transportation industry both to reduce carbon emissions in the short term while working toward a goal of net-zero in the long term as hydrogen and other potential solutions mature,” said airport CEO Christina Cassotis. “This is Pittsburgh innovation at work. We believe this strategy can have a global impact.”
The agreement comes on the heels of an announcement earlier this week from Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf about a statewide initiative to secure a hydrogen hub and large-scale carbon storage system in Pennsylvania, bringing further partnership opportunities to PIT.
The hydrogen initiative would build what it calls a “regional ecosystem” for the transition to clean hydrogen and carbon capture and storage, large-scale investments that leaders say put the region on a path to sustainability while creating jobs. Airport and CNX officials say their agreement builds on the statewide initiative.
CNX has developed proprietary technology to cost-effectively convert on-site dry natural gas into liquefied natural gas (LNG), compressed natural gas (CNG) and electricity for various uses including as a hydrogen feedstock.
These technologies will reduce local emissions and further reduce operating costs at the airport. The strategy also envisions a sustainable fuel hub at PIT using locally sourced, lower-cost, lower-carbon-intensity LNG and CNG fueling depots for airlines, transit, cargo, fleet, military, and other energy-intensive business purposes.
“CNX views its innovative public-private partnership with PIT as the beachhead market to showcase this technology, and the associated economic development opportunities, through on-site development of low-cost and lower-carbon-intensity natural gas derivative products,” said CNX president and CEO Nick DeIuliis.
As part of the agreement, CNX will develop the Utica shale on airport property, representing the first wells from this formation completed and brought into production in Allegheny County, where Pittsburgh is located. The Utica shale yields a dry gas which is more easily converted into LNG and CNG alternative fuels and hydrogen.
The airport will work with CNX to identify local end-use opportunities that would benefit from using natural gas derivative products to reduce emissions.
“We will produce, process, and consume these natural gas-based products locally first, and, in doing so, unleash countless downstream economic opportunities and help jumpstart the hydrogen economy, leverage the region’s unrivalled work ethic, create family-sustaining jobs, better the region’s underserved communities, and revitalize Appalachia’s middle class in a new, lower carbon economic ecosystem,” DeIuliis said.
CNX began its natural gas development-related activities at the airport in 2014, bringing its Marcellus shale wells into production in 2016 with the airport sharing the resulting revenue. The airport would similarly collect revenue from new drilling within the new agreement.
PIT is already leading the way in energy innovation. Last summer, the airport became the first in the world to be completely powered with its own microgrid, fueled by natural gas and more than 10,000 solar panels. Officials are planning to double the size of the solar field, which is built atop an old landfill.
Airport officials noted that the microgrid alone is forecast to reduce emissions by about 8.2 million pounds of carbon dioxide per year within the region.
Over the last 10 years, the airport has collected approximately $112 million, including a $46 million up-front payment in 2013, from CNX. The money has been used to lower airline rates and charges and for capital projects. The airport does not receive local tax dollars.