Region's Big Organizations Join Forces to Decarbonize Manufacturing

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By Paul J. Gough

Key players in the Pittsburgh region’s manufacturing and energy industry are coming together with the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University, labor unions and government officials to turn southwestern Pennsylvania and surrounding areas into a carbon-free manufacturing leader and center of excellence of the future.

The effort, which was discussed during a virtual meeting Friday morning, brought together U.S. Steel Corp. (NYSE: X) President/CEO David Burritt, EQT Corp. President Toby Rice, Pitt Chancellor Patrick Gallagher, Carnegie Mellon University Vice President for Research J. Michael McQuade, Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development Secretary Dennis Davin, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald as well as The Hillman Foundation, the R.K. Mellon Foundation, The Heinz Endowments, United Steelworkers, AFL-CIO and the building trades, among others. It’s being chaired by Morgan O’Brien, the former CEO of Peoples Gas and Duquesne Light.

O’Brien told the Business Times in an interview after the meeting that the initiative seeks to bring the Pittsburgh region into the forefront of the global decarbonization effort just as it was in the forefront of the energy and industrial revolution of the past 200 years.

“This is an inflection point in our country’s pursuit of carbon reduction,” said U.S. Steel’s Burritt.

Decarbonizing industry, while at the same time bringing more manufacturing back to the United States, will require intensive effort and technological innovation that the leaders say should be centered in the Pittsburgh region, which boasts Pitt, CMU and the National Energy Technology Laboratory in South Park.

“The leaders gathered today can cast a mold for industrial sites across the nation that are ready to rise up to this pivotal moment in our industrial and environmental history,” Burritt said. “The one thing we all agreed on is that we need to make steel in America, and that we would like to make it in the Mon Valley.”

O’Brien said Friday’s meeting discussed the vision and some overarching details for the effort, which for the moment will be built around an existing IN-2-Market research collaborative between university research and manufacturing. A Pennsylvania Center for Excellence for Decarbonizing Manufacturing Operations, as it would be called, would be created and funded.

“The idea of creating a decarbonizing manufacturing hub in the region, that’s the driving force here,” O’Brien said.

O’Brien said one possibility is creating a prototype decarbonized industrial plant and research institute around it in the Mon Valley.

“There, research and development would happen, on the hydrogen/energy side and the manufacturing side,” O’Brien said.

EQT (NYSE: EQT) is working on some of the solutions, which would involve the conversion of natural gas being produced in Appalachia into hydrogen, which is a carbon-free energy source.

“If we can build on the region’s heritage of manufacturing innovation and enable our enterprises to lead the world into the next industrial revolution with cleaner, smarter, more efficient and carbon-free operations, we will accomplish something that will benefit future generations,” Rice said in a statement.

Also speaking in favor of the proposals at the meeting were U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle and U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb.

O’Brien said the next steps are creating a working group to get deep into the technical aspects, as well as finding funding.

“To me, this is all an incredibly exciting first step, but it’s only the first step in that conversation,” O’Brien said. “We’re going to take more steps.”

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