Across America, U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) researchers in national laboratories like NETL are working together to identify and develop containment and monitoring technologies for the safe and effective underground storage of hydrogen (H2). Concurrently, planning is under way to raise public perception and acceptance of the underground storage facilities needed to help make H2 a safe and practical low-carbon fuel source for a new energy economy.
The work is part of NETL’s participation in a multi-national laboratory effort known as Subsurface Hydrogen Assessment, Storage and Technology Acceleration (SHASTA). DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management established SHASTA in 2021 to explore H2 storage opportunities in geologic reservoirs. In addition to NETL, DOE labs participating in SHASTA include the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and Sandia National Laboratories.
“There’s a lot of work to be done to help raise public acceptance of underground hydrogen storage,” NETL’s Angela Goodman explained. “That’s because there is almost no data on public perception of underground hydrogen storage. But there have been studies that focus on hydrogen transportation, above ground storage, and attitudes about hydrogen as an energy carrier. Those studies generally show a low public awareness of hydrogen as an energy carrier.”
Stakeholders in the H2 storage education effort include operators, regulators, potential end users, market participants and the general public.
Goodman said SHASTA’s research has indicated that pilot studies, market analyses and lessons from related industries and existing data points can be used to boost public awareness.
“For example, underground storage of natural gas has been well studied and practiced for more than a century,” she said. “Geothermal energy projects have dealt with public perception issues and wind farm projects have faced and often overcome opposition. SHASTA’s team believes that well-communicated results from market analyses and frameworks that assess projects for local populations are key to boosting public acceptance.”
Existing regulations governing the underground storage of natural gas can also provide groundwork for greater public acceptance of underground H2 storage. For example, construction of facilities and pricing practices is often regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and state public utility commissions. Safety, meanwhile, has been regulated by a combination of government agencies like the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and fire marshals. Environmental regulation is handled by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state departments of environmental protection.
In the meantime, a great deal of information is available through SHASTA’s research that can help increase public awareness about the potential for H2 use and storage. For example:
- According to SHASTA, there are five key demand segments for H2: heavy industry, power generation, vehicles, areas with high variable energy production, and areas with large differences between summer and winter heat production.
- The most cost-effective underground storage option for H2 is depleted hydrocarbon reservoirs, which are reservoirs that do not currently produce oil or gas and are considered to have no economically recoverable oil or gas with current technology. They often already have equipment in place for off-take.
- The second most cost-effective underground storage option are aquifers. An aquifer is a body of rock and/or sediment that holds groundwater that can be converted for gas storage. Aquifers are generally close to population centers and consumers.
- Salt caverns are an attractive option because of lower construction costs, but their capacity is low compared to reservoirs and aquifers.
- Hard rock caverns are the most expensive of the storage options.
- Construction costs of underground storage facilities are generally lower than similar capacity aboveground facilities.
NETL and its SHASTA partners have charted a course of action to determine the viability, safety, and reliability of storing H2 or H2 blends in subsurface environments. Preparations for social, regulatory and technoeconomic considerations remain a key segment of that work.
NETL drives innovation and delivers technological solutions for an environmentally sustainable and prosperous energy future. By using its world-class talent and research facilities, NETL is ensuring affordable, abundant and reliable energy that drives a robust economy and national security, while developing technologies to manage carbon across the full life cycle, enabling environmental sustainability for all Americans.
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