NETL is conducting observation and monitoring technology research for underground hydrogen storage as part of the SHASTA collaboration

U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) researchers across the country are accelerating their efforts to solve challenging production, transportation, and storage problems to put hydrogen (H2) to work as a low-carbon fuel option for a number of critical energy applications. NETL is a key part of this overall effort with work to advance technologies for the observation and monitoring of underground H2 storage facilities that guarantee maximum safety.

Safe underground H2 storage requires technologies that effectively monitor facilities to ensure that gas remains safely stored in underground resources until it is needed to power more of the nation’s critical transportation, power generation, and manufacturing applications.

According to Ruishu Wright of NETL’s functional materials team, a range of sensors and borehole monitoring tools have been used in geological carbon dioxide (CO2) absorption, the oil and gas industry and other suitable applications in the underground storage industry. At NETL, a team of experts is helping to develop cost-effective approaches to monitor H2 underground storage facilities over wide areas abilities required by the greater mobility and buoyancy of H2 gas jets.

The work is part of NETL’s participation in a multinational laboratory effort known as Subsurface Hydrogen Assessment, Storage and Technology Acceleration (SHASTA). The Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management established SHASTA in 2021 to investigate H2 storage possibilities in geological reservoirs. In addition to NETL, DOE laboratories participating in SHASTA include Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and Sandia National Laboratories.

“Surveillance and monitoring are important for assessing and managing the operational risks of underground hydrogen storage,” Wright said. “Therefore, real-time monitoring is required to ensure the integrity of the storage infrastructure and detect early signs of gas leaks.”

Since industry has used hydrogen in a number of applications for decades, there are many commercial hydrogen sensors in operation, including catalytic combustion sensors, electrochemical sensors, thermal conductivity sensors, resistive sensors, acoustic leak sensors, and optical sensors.

“The problem is that existing sensor technologies are mostly point or remote hydrogen sensors,” Wright said. “There is a real need for large-scale and long-range monitoring to detect hydrogen leaks in large storage facilities. In addition, subsurface conditions in some underground storage facilities can be challenging due to higher pressures and temperatures not encountered under typical sensor operating conditions.

This means researchers are working to evaluate emerging sensor technologies such as fiber-optic sensors and passive wireless sensors that are safer in flammable gas mixtures than electrical-based sensors.

Researchers are also racing to meet the need for technologies that can monitor groundwater quality to identify geochemical changes that may be needed to prevent groundwater contamination. Some geochemical changes can potentially lead to wellbore failure, which also needs real-time monitoring.

Another area of ​​focus in H2 monitoring and storage monitoring is triggered by seismic events: mild earthquakes and tremors caused by activities such as geothermal energy extraction, mining dam construction, construction, and hydraulic fracturing that change the stresses and strains of the Earth’s crust.

Experience with induced seismic events in underground storage facilities is very limited. But there is significant experience in seismic monitoring and risk management in oil and natural gas, wastewater disposal and CO2 absorption zones that can be applied in seismically problematic gas storage operations. SHASTA’s efforts are focused on ensuring that all the most useful and efficient technologies are used for the surveillance and monitoring needs of this emerging industry.

NETL drives innovation and provides technology solutions for an environmentally sustainable and prosperous energy future. Using its world-class talent and research facilities, NETL provides affordable, abundant and reliable energy that drives a robust economy and national security, while developing life-cycle carbon management technologies, enabling environmental sustainability for all Americans.

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