The North-West of England as a Hydrogen Storage Hub
Atkins, a member of SNC-Lavalin Group, is actively supporting the development of hydrogen storage in the UK. On behalf of the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI), we have recently published a study on the role of UK salt caverns in the storage of hydrogen.
Two members of our Energy Storage team who led the delivery of these works provide an overview of their thoughts on the future of hydrogen storage in the UK; Evan Passaris (EP), one of the world’s preeminent salt cavern storage specialists; and Christopher McMichael (CMcM), Engineering Manager for the Atkins Energy Storage team.
Q1 – Why do we need Hydrogen storage in the UK?
CMcM: It is clear that the world is at a cross roads where the impact of global warming is becoming more prevalent and the social and economic impacts of this means that we need to act now. Achieving the UK Government’s pledge to reduce carbon emissions to 51% of the 1990 levels by 2025 (which I consider essential) can only be achieved by decarbonising the electricity generation, transport and heat networks.
Although there has been significant development in decarbonisation of the electricity generation network, the heat and transport networks have not progressed at the same pace. The use of Hydrogen could provide a very real solution to this; it can be used to reduce (or potentially replace) natural gas in the heat networks, and can also be used as a fuel, via hydrogen fuel cells, in transport vehicles.
EP: Fundamentally, the use of hydrogen can also be used to improve the effectiveness of renewable generation where surplus electricity can be used to generate hydrogen, to be then be stored for future use in decarbonising the networks, as mentioned. Furthermore, hydrogen is produced as a by-product of Carbon Capture Utilisation and Storage (CCUS) where again, if stored, can be later deployed (e.g. to generate electricity as discussed in our ETI study).
Q2 – Why is the North-West a suitable Hydrogen storage hub?
EP: The North-West has a rich history in the storage of gas; for almost 100 years, we have taken advantage of the local Triassic salt fields to develop salt caverns for storage of gas. Such salt fields are rare in the UK, occurring in only three locations – Cheshire, East Yorkshire and Teesside. Cheshire has a rich tradition in operating salt cavern storage facilities, of which there are numerous in operation today. Furthermore, the ETI assessment works that we conducted confirmed that these caverns are ideally suited to be used as an intermittent 1 GWe H2 storage power site.
CMcM: In addition, the North-West is well serviced by offshore wind farms, offshore gas fields, gas terminals with links to the national grid and large urban centres which provide what we believe to be an ideal location for a Hydrogen storage hub.
Q3 – What are the benefits of salt cavern storage
EP: It is hard to fault salt as a storage medium as it effectively acts as a large self-healing sub-surface pressure vessel, allowing a large volume of gas to be stored with minimal space at surface being used. Salt itself is superior to other geological materials due to its almost zero permeability (10-22 m2), vastly minimising the chance of potential leak paths. Financially salt caverns have also been shown to be economical, especially when storing volumes above 50,000 m3, not to mention the substantial risk reduction by storing the gas below ground, at depth, and away from potential hazards. In my opinion, it is the only sensible storage method for the bulk storage of Hydrogen.