In collaboration with two other national laboratories, a team of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) experts has initiated a project to investigate the viability of large-scale hydrogen storage in geologic formations.

The Department of Energy’s Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management (FECM) will award up to $6.75 million in grants to researchers at LLNL, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), and the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) during the next three years.

“This is an exciting project for us because it addresses a timely and critical component of a low-carbon energy future,” said LLNL reservoir engineer and principal investigator Joshua White.

“At the same time, the required expertise builds on LLNL’s decades of experience working in the subsurface on related technologies such as geologic carbon storage, natural gas storage and geothermal energy.”

A crucial component of the initiative, dubbed the SHASTA Project (Underground Hydrogen Assessment, Storage, and Technology Acceleration), is a study of the safety and efficiency of storing blended hydrogen and natural gas in subsurface reservoirs.

Hydrogen is establishing itself as a low-carbon fuel choice for transportation, electricity generation, manufacturing, and clean energy technologies, accelerating the United States’ transition to a low-carbon economy.

A significant difficulty, however, is ensuring the safe and effective storage of hydrogen. Large-scale hydrogen storage will be necessary as the country transforms to a clean energy economy that is virtually carbon- and emission-free. Domestically, however, only salt dome constructions or caverns have been shown to be safe and effective for large-volume subterranean hydrogen storage.

While not all regions have the geological conditions necessary for salt cavity storage, FECM is studying storage options in these areas, including porous medium akin to underground natural gas storage reservoirs.

The recently announced research will assess the technological feasibility of storing hydrogen in subsurface systems and calculate the operational risks associated with such storage.

Additionally, it will develop technology and methods to mitigate those risks. Simultaneously, the research effort will lay the technical groundwork for utilizing the significantly larger storage capacities available in porous media storage, as well as the possibility to repurpose existing natural gas storage infrastructure for the hydrogen economy.

Finally, the project may contribute to the acceleration and expansion of hydrogen use by utilizing existing infrastructure (e.g., existing natural gas storage reservoirs) at storage locations around the United States.

It will address important technological challenges; undertake research to establish the feasibility of emerging technologies; and develop tools and technologies to assist industry in advancing subsurface hydrogen storage.

Among the critical questions that scholars will address are the following:

  • How can the technical and operational hazards associated with subsurface hydrogen storage be managed to ensure human and environmental safety during operations?
  • How may emerging technologies (e.g., sensors, reservoir simulators, and screening tools) be leveraged to provide a smart, safe, and efficient hydrogen subsurface storage system?
  • What technical, operational, and economic insights are required to enable large-scale subterranean hydrogen storage or hydrogen-natural gas mixes on a big scale?

Field experiments and computer models will be used to investigate the effects of pure hydrogen and blended hydrogen on subterranean storage systems. The research will focus on assessing material compatibility, defining microbial interactions at the core and reservoir scales, and investigating core- and reservoir-scale performance.

Nedim Husomanovic

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