Investigation begins for pioneering salt cavern hydrogen storage projects

Engineering company Atkins has been selected by the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI) to examine the potential for British salt caverns to store hydrogen to be used in power generation.

The six-month project will identify representative caverns in Cheshire, Teesside and East Yorkshire which could store hydrogen that can be used in gas turbines when demand for electricity is high.

While there are already three small stores in Teesside where similar technology has been deployed for industrial use, this latest project is looking at larger-scale hydrogen storage for power or use in heating homes – something which has not been done before in the UK.

Atkins will work closely with cavern storage operators including Storengy, SSE Gas Storage and SAVOC, who will provide data and technical expertise to assist in the development of the hydrogen storage model for each region.

The storage technology being deployed is similar to that of carbon capture and storage (CCS), which can store carbon dioxide emitted from high-producing sources in secure geological formations deep underground.

ETI’s CCS strategy manager Den Gammer said: “We believe that storing and using hydrogen could be a low-cost way of providing clean power for peak and load following demand.

“A single cavern could potentially provide enough storage capacity to satisfy the peak demands of a UK city. This project will provide more detail on the suitability of individual caverns and the costs associated with using them, increasing the evidence base needed if they are to be developed further.”

Salt in the ground

ETI will invest £170,000 in the initiative, following a report it published last year which highlighted the potential role hydrogen storage could play in a clean, reliable and affordable energy system. That report found that the use of a responsive gas turbine greatly improves the flexibility of power output to the grid, while allowing the hydrogen generator and hydrogen storage plant to operate at peak efficiency.

Today, salt caverns are already used for storing oil and natural gas and there are around 30 very large caverns in the UK. ETI states that many of these caverns constructed in the UK’s extensive salt fields deep underground could potentially be re-used for hydrogen storage.

A seperate ETI report published in March last year found that building a 10GW-scale CCS sector by 2030 in the UK is both feasible and affordable. 

Speaking at the time, Gammer said: “Beyond 2030, to get the most out of the investment required for installing a CCS plant, you would need to reduce the time it is spent idle because it’s power production may not be required. If you can store hydrogen that is produced continuously by modestly sized hydrogen plants in salt caverns, then you release that to generate electricity only when the system demands it.”

Investment storage

But in November 2015, the UK’s crucial CCS competition was cancelled by the Government on the grounds of excessive cost. That controversial decision was met with backlash from industry and opposition parties alike. The National Audit Committee suggested that the cancellation of the CCS competition could cost the UK an additional £30bn to meet its 2050 carbon targets.

A recent report by the Parliamentary Advisory Group urged the Government to take “immediate action” to reignite the development of CCS technology in the UK in order to reduce the cost of meeting the nation’s climate change obligations by up to £5bn each year. 

The Aldersgate Group has also highlighted that thousands of jobs could be created through the development of new CCS ‘hubs’, which would give a huge boost to the economic regeneration of some of Britain’s oldest industrial centres in the North East and Scotland.

George Ogleby

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie