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Felicity Bradstock

Felicity Bradstock

Felicity Bradstock is a freelance writer specialising in Energy and Finance. She has a Master’s in International Development from the University of Birmingham, UK.

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The Race To Develop Hydrogen Storage

  • Energy companies around the world are racing to develop hydrogen storage, believing that it will help to reduce dependence on natural gas and boost energy security.
  • The Department of Energy has identified some regions in the U.S. that it believes will be most suitable for cavern storage development.
  • There are also hydrogen storage projects underway in the UK and the EU, both of which are desperately looking for alternatives to Russian natural gas.

Around the globe, energy companies and governments are racing to develop their hydrogen storage capacity in an attempt to boost their energy security and reduce their reliance on natural gas. As investment into the research and development of hydrogen technologies increases, several world powers are developing better storage solutions to support the rollout of hydrogen for a multitude of uses. Boosting storage capacity will allow countries to produce and store hydrogen for use much in the same way as natural gas.

As part of its National Clean Hydrogen Strategy and Roadmap, the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) discusses the potential for increasing hydrogen storage. It considers the alternative approaches to hydrogen storage to decide on the optimal option for long-term storage. Hydrogen can be kept in a number of different ways, either in gaseous or liquid vessels, in underground formations, or in materials such as hydrogen carriers. Depending on how the hydrogen will be used, each of these options can be appropriate.

There are already commercial tanks and liquid dewars being used in the U.S., mainly on energy sites and fuelling stations. As huge quantities of liquid hydrogen are used in aerospace, the Kennedy Space Center in Florida is home to a storage vessel for 1.25 million gallons of liquid hydrogen. Underground caverns are also used to store hydrogen for use in the petrochemical industry, with three large-scale geological hydrogen storage caverns in the U.S. at present. Most of these caverns are excavated in salt deposits near areas intended for hydrogen use. The DoE roadmap identifies some of the regions in the U.S. most suitable for greater cavern storage development, both for hydrogen and for carbon from carbon capture and storage (CCS) operations.

The DoE highlights hydrogen storage as key for the advancement of hydrogen and fuel cell technologies for stationary power, portable power, and transportation. Due to its low ambient temperature density hydrogen has a low energy per unit volume, and it requires specialist forms of storage. Tanks used to keep hydrogen gas must sustain a high pressure of between 350–700 bars. And liquid hydrogen needs to be stored at cryogenic temperatures, as it has a boiling point of −252.8°C. The U.S. Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies Office (HFTO) aims to develop hydrogen storage options to meet the DoE hydrogen storage targets for onboard light-duty vehicles, material-handling equipment, and portable power applications.

In the U.K., the energy company SSE started work this month on the excavation of an underground cavern in east Yorkshire to store hydrogen for use when urgently needed. The project includes a 35-megawatt electrolyzer to produce green hydrogen that will be stored in the giant cavern. The hydrogen can be used to fire a turbine to supply power to the grid during times of peak demand. SSE hopes the Pathfinder project, which is expected to cost over $120 million, will offer a blueprint for larger-scale hydrogen storage projects in the future. It expects the project to be operational by 2025. Siemens Energy will be carrying out the project’s design and engineering work. SSE has even bigger long-term plans, having partnered with Norwegian energy firm Equinor to develop the Keadby hydrogen power station on the same site for 2028. It is expected to be the world’s first big 100 percent hydrogen-fired power station.

The firm hopes to attract government funding for its low-carbon hydrogen operations. As the U.K. faces record low temperatures and soaring energy prices, with fears of gas shortages, SSE is offering an alternative renewable energy that it expects will one day take the place of natural gas. The slow development of the green hydrogen sector is mainly due to the high costs incurred with the set-up of operations. However, government funding for these types of projects could help technologies advance more quickly and become cheaper to roll out on a bigger scale.

The European Union is also developing its hydrogen storage plans. It sees hydrogen storage as key to supplying renewable energy to power grids as needed. As hydrogen can be stored in large quantities over long periods of time, it offers greater energy security in the transition to green. It can help make energy systems more flexible, balancing supply with demand. This is an issue that plagues the green energy industry, as solar and wind projects often fail to provide energy during the peak hours of demand. New hydrogen storage facilities, as well as the expansion of the region’s battery storage capacity, could help boost reliable renewable energy provision. 

As investment in hydrogen technology and production continues to increase worldwide, companies are shifting their focus to hydrogen storage as a means to make the energy supply from the renewable energy sector more reliable. This could support a more rapid transition away from fossil fuels, as well as boost energy security around the globe.

By Felicity Bradstock for Oilprice.com

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