UND Energy and Environmental Research Center studies hydrogen ‘road map’, underground storage
On June 9, the North Dakota Industrial Commission approved $ 10 million for two research projects to be carried out by the EERC. The first will study the feasibility of storing energy resources – including natural gas, liquefied natural gas and hydrogen – in underground salt formations in the western part of the state. The second is to create a “road map” for developing hydrogen energy in the state.
Research from the two projects aims to connect these multiple facets and create plans that can lead to further development and commercialization of the state’s energy sector.
“The whole concept of a hydrogen economy is where you plan to decarbonize all sectors,” Gorecki said. “For us, in this particular roadmap, how would North Dakota fit into a hydrogen economy? That’s what it is – where we produce it, transport it, how we use all these types of things.
The research projects, while technically separate, are, Gorecki said, tangentially linked. EERC researchers know how hydrogen can be produced in the state, but its storage, along with other gases like natural gas, is another matter. Underground storage research represents $ 9.5 million of the funding approved by the Industrial Commission. The commission is made up of Governor Doug Burgum, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring.
The EERC was tasked with exploring two large salt fields in western North Dakota. Researchers will drill and collect core samples to determine if these fields are suitable for underground storage. The idea is to create solution-filled caverns, perhaps 50 feet in diameter and a quarter of a mile long. This solution can be pumped to surface storage tanks, as the hydrogen or natural gas takes its place. Gorecki said similar caverns are used on the Gulf Coast and in Alberta, Canada.
“If you create hydrogen, you have to put it somewhere and storing it in this underground salt cave is a great solution,” Gorecki said. “You just have to fill it in and extract it as needed. “
The EERC will not build these caves, but will only study the feasibility of their creation. The state and private industries will use the research to assess the economic viability of underground storage of hydrocarbon gases. The research projects are expected to be completed within two years.
For State Senator Curt Kreun, R-Grand Forks, Deputy Chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, the research projects lay the groundwork for a more comprehensive use of the state’s natural resources for, among other things, the production of electricity. Kreun stressed the need to have various forms of production to maintain a stable base load of electricity, and not to throw out a source “like the baby with the bath water”. It will be up to private industry to evaluate and monitor EERC research.
“Of course it’s our public goal, to get this (research) out there so that commercialization is done from what we do,” said Kreun, who represents District 42 of Grand Forks.
Gorecki compared power generation to a retirement investment account – having a diversified portfolio is a smart idea. Solar panels and wind turbines are two renewable sources, but cannot fill the void when the sun is not shining and the wind is not blowing. One possible use of the hydrogen generated in the state could be for “peak power plants,” which come online to generate electricity in times of high demand. Another possible use could be as fuel for commercial vehicles.
It is the goal of the Hydrogen Economy Roadmap to tie these ends together. And it is the purpose of the UND facility to lead the way in energy and environmental research, Gorecki said.
“We are solving the problems,” he said.