GeoH2, an industrial affiliates program (IAP), conducts geoscience, engineering, and economic research to facilitate and advance the development of a hydrogen economy at scale. GeoH2 connects industry professionals in the energy and power sector with researchers in energy geoscience, subsurface engineering, and energy economics to conduct subsurface hydrogen storage research and technology development, perform market feasibility analyses, and explore novel subsurface concepts related to hydrogen.
Hydrogen (H2) offers the potential for a transportable, storable fuel for a low-carbon economy. Hydrogen can be generated renewably using electrolysis and from natural gas, which when combined with carbon capture and storage, can reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Hydrogen as an energy carrier at urban, regional, or national scale will require development of a robust supply network integrating storage, transportation, and distribution infrastructure. In the United States, an extensive natural gas network provides an excellent starting point for considering gas transportation and distribution. However, storage capacity for hydrogen is inadequate to allow for supply beyond current industrial usage.
Importance of Geological Storage
Geological storage combined with surface storage, hydrogen pipelines, and transportation infrastructure connecting supply to end users is essential for large-scale hydrogen systems and value chains. At present, hydrogen is stored for industrial usage in salt caverns in salt domes at three sites in southeastern Texas along the Gulf Coast. Salt caverns present the advantage of allowing fast withdrawal and injection rates but are restricted to areas with salt at the right depth. Non-domal, bedded salt offers broader geographic coverage for salt cavern-storage of hydrogen. In addition, porous media (e.g., sandstone) reservoirs offer larger capacity and more widespread, abundant opportunities for storage. They fall into two broad categories: (1) depleted oil and gas reservoirs, with proven storage volume, flow properties, and seal capabilities; and (2) saline aquifers with abundant potential locations but unproven gas-trapping and recovery characteristics. Depleted oil and gas reservoirs, particularly gas reservoirs, may also be advantaged by having basic infrastructure, such as roads, production pads, pipelines, and wells, that may be partially repurposed for hydrogen storage and production.
GeoH2 Research and Technology Portfolio
Our research and technology development addresses four aspects of underground hydrogen storage: porous reservoir storage, salt cavern storage, in situ hydrogen generation, and techno-economic and value chain analysis.
Hydrogen Storage in Porous Reservoirs
While subsurface hydrogen storage can build on decades of natural gas underground storage, the unique properties of hydrogen require an adaptation of existing storage technology to account for differences in storage capacity, reservoir integrity, and requirements on hydrogen purity. Research activities include reservoir modeling coupled with laboratory experiments to understand the behavior of hydrogen in the reservoirs as well as suitability analyses to identify reservoir types and fields that would be appropriate for designing and conducting pilot tests. These, in turn, would lead to potential development in collaboration with industry partners. Tools will be developed to evaluate physical and economic risk associated with lack of reservoir containment, flow performance, and degradation of stored hydrogen.
Salt Cavern Storage
Hydrogen storage in salt caverns is a proven technology for industrial applications. However, not all salt bodies are the same. Upscaling of salt cavern storage to meet larger hydrogen demands requires evaluation and ranking of prospective storage sites in terms of depth and dimension. It also requires characterization of salt deposits for cavern storage based on structural attributes, salt composition, and compositional heterogeneity. Our research addresses domal and layered salt bodies, and the development of software applications to quickly assess storage and injection/production capacities.
In Situ Generation of Hydrogen
Hydrogen can be generated from in situ combustion (ISC) of hydrocarbons as well as from underground coal gasification (UCG) under controlled conditions. Similarly, in situ pyrolysis (non-combustion heating) of coals and hydrocarbons can generate hydrogen. We investigate the potential of in situ generation for the primary purpose of hydrogen generation from hydrocarbons in the subsurface. Hydrogen generation in situ would provide a direct source of hydrogen utilizing thermal energy from hydrocarbon combustion with concurrent reinjection of carbon dioxide (CO2) into nearby reservoirs. In situ pyrolysis would allow for hydrogen generation with coke (solid carbon) as a by-product. Initial research assesses feasibility using reservoir flow and reaction models. Planned research will integrate carbon capture technologies and engineering. In addition, serpentinization of ultramafic, iron-rich rocks is potentially a process that could be engineered to generate and produce hydrogen gas from these rocks without carbon dioxide.
Naturally Occurring Hydrogen
Hydrogen occurs in nature, mainly in the form of compounds such as water and hydrocarbons. However, hydrogen gas originating from natural processes such as serpentinization and hydrolysis, and mantle sources is effused from the Earth in many locations around the world. A subsurface accumulation of hydrogen gas at high concentration (> 95 % H2) in Mali, Africa and other documented occurrences of hydrogen accumulations at lower concentrations demonstrate that natural hydrogen can be trapped in subsurface reservoirs. Nevertheless, the extent of natural hydrogen resources that could potentially be found and economically produced is unknown. Our research is intended to build and maintain awareness of natural hydrogen as a potential resource.
Techno-Economics and Hydrogen Value Chain Analysis
Scaling up the hydrogen sector requires a dedicated and developed transportation and storage infrastructure system. We evaluate the technology options for hydrogen supply, demand, transportation, and storage to develop a system-level understanding to inform preferred options for the fast-emerging value chain. Because the hydrogen value chain cannot be considered in isolation from existing energy systems, including natural gas and renewables, our models will provide the capability to assess and analyze the interaction between the hydrogen and natural gas value chains, including power utilities as a traditional downstream segment. Our work is designed to assess the cost competitiveness of various pathways and technology options to bring hydrogen to market, identifying the optimal technology mix and routes to market. Our research includes development of robust software applications to economically evaluate and screen geological storage system options. This work is envisioned to include pilot systems that link hydrogen production to storage, transportation, and end use.
The Bureau of Economic Geology at the University of Texas is extremely well positioned, with subsurface-data access, numerical modeling capability, and laboratories, to investigate interactions of rock and hydrogen in the subsurface, characterize and model hydrogen storage, study ISC for hydrogen generation, and analyze value chains and model scenarios of potential hydrogen markets. The Bureau is also experienced in leading collaborative, multidisciplinary applied research efforts in collaboration with industry, enabling focused research and technology development and effective technology transfer.
Consortium members meet twice a year for research and development reviews and participate in topical workshops. Training and sponsor-company visits can be arranged in person or virtually. Sponsorship is $75,000 per year.
Dr. Mark Shuster: email@example.com, (U.S.) 512-471-7090
Dr. Peter Eichhubl: firstname.lastname@example.org, (U.S.) 512-475-8829