Appalachia, a region that powered America’s energy past, may soon be powering America’s energy future. On February 1, Norwegian energy company Equinor announced a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Battelle, the world’s largest independent research and development company.
Under the MOU, the two companies will conduct feasibility studies to further understand the region’s carbon capture potential, according to Battelle. On the agreement, Equinor’s U.S. manager Chris Golden had this to say:
“The Appalachian Basin is an important energy-producing region that also shows great promise in being a leader for the decarbonization of American industry. Our regional hub vision will meet tomorrow’s energy demands while maintaining America’s industrial competitiveness within a net-zero scenario. Collaborating with Battelle, a like-minded organization with extensive experience in key low-carbon initiatives, brings us closer to delivering on our ambitions.”
Historically speaking, coal has been the economic driver of Appalachia, especially in West Virginia. In the mid-1900s the coal industry in the state employed more than 150,000 people. By 2016 this number had dropped to 20,000, with unemployment rates in top coal-producing counties hitting 10-14%. This decline in industry has been driven primarily by market forces as cheaper and cleaner natural gas and renewables have displaced coal’s share of America’s energy portfolio.
Despite the economic decline, there are several reasons to be optimistic for Appalachia. Late in 2021 the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) projected that Appalachia could “see the biggest economic benefit from the deployment of wind and solar projects over the next decade.” RMI estimates that Appalachia will see some $65 billion in benefits from renewable energy buildout through 2030.
The MOU between Battelle and Equinor could be an important step to bridge the gap between clean energy and economic prosperity in the region. Already Equinor is showing that climate solutions can be economically beneficial. Since 1996 Equinor has captured more than 23 million tons of CO2 and in 2020 alone Equinor’s employee benefits and wages totaled $3.7 billion across all operations.
For decades Battelle has been the private sector leader in clean energy research and innovation, managing more than 100 carbon capture projects worldwide. The Columbus, Ohio-based research facility has already been active in the Midwest and Appalachia, having recently partnered with the Midwest Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnership (MRCSP) to conduct research for carbon capture commercialization in the area.
Last year Battelle also announced a partnership with the Ohio Coal Development Office and the U.S. Department of Energy to develop a process that would turn coal into polyurethane foam—a vital component for commercial use plastic.
Battelle and Equinor’s partnership can be welcome news for Appalachia and America’s energy sector. To transition our economy to one that is less carbon-intensive, we will need private sector innovations that keep energy prices affordable while economically benefiting local communities. Through their leadership, Battelle and Equinor are showing that the private sector is indeed ready to lead the way to a cleaner future.