Norway’s Equinor and Scottish energy giant SSE have awarded key contracts for a giant hydrogen storage facility being proposed at their Aldbrough gas storage site, on the east Yorkshire coast in the UK.

The pair have awarded engineering company Atkins and sustainability consultancy Environmental Resources Management (ERM) “major contracts” on the proposed storage facility, which could become one of the largest hydrogen storage sites in the world.

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Atkins will carry out a feasibility study to assess the design of the hydrogen storage caverns at Aldbrough as well as the planned pipeline to transport hydrogen to and from the proposed new Humber Low Carbon Pipelines being developed as part of the Equinor-led Zero Carbon Humber scheme.

This work is expected to help provide the foundation for the next phase of scoping work as the project matures, while the contract also carries the option for Atkins to perform subsequent pre-front end engineering and design work.

The contract awarded to ERM covers the environmental, health, safety and permitting aspects of the scheme, which the joint venture said was vital to developing Equinor’s planned Hydrogen to Humber (H2H) Saltend scheme and enabling flexibility in the regional hydrogen production, usage and storage value chain.

Equinor is proposing to develop 1.8 gigawatts of blue hydrogen production in the Humber region, starting with its proposed 600-megawatt H2H Saltend project, which could start up by mid-decade and will help decarbonise and fuel switch the Saltend Chemicals Park.

This would then be followed by a 1.2-GW production facility to supply SSE and Equinor’s proposed Keadby hydrogen power station, which the partnership claims would be the world’s first 100% hydrogen-fired power station and could start up before the end of the decade.

“Equinor has ambitious plans to develop a hydrogen economy in the Humber, including production, usage and storage, which will make it an international beacon for low-carbon energy,” said Dan Sadler, vice president of UK Low Carbon Solutions at Equinor.

“We are delighted to award contracts to two leading British companies that bring real expertise in their field and can help to make this ambition a reality.”

New life for gas storage facility

The Aldbrough gas storage facility was commissioned in 2011 and consists of nine underground salt caverns, each roughly the same size as London’s St Paul’s Cathedral, and has the capacity to store a total of about 330 million cubic metres of gas.

Equinor and SSE plan to either convert the existing caverns or create new purpose-built caverns to store hydrogen at the site.

The facility’s initial expected capacity of at least 320 gigawatt hours would make it larger than any hydrogen storage facility in operation in the world, according to the joint venture.

If their plans progress, Equinor and SSE could begin storing hydrogen at Aldbrough in 2028.

Storage vital for hydrogen economy

SSE and Equinor stated they believed the development of hydrogen storage will be vital for the creation of a large-scale hydrogen economy in the UK.

They claim hydrogen storage will support fuel switching in many sectors including flexible power generation alongside intermittent renewables, industrial use and heat.

The companies added hydrogen storage would also be needed to support the optimal production of both blue and green hydrogen as the hydrogen economy grows, providing backup where large proportions of energy are produced from renewable power.

Green vs Blue

Blue hydrogen is produced from natural gas feedstocks, with the carbon dioxide by-product from hydrogen production captured and stored. However, the process is not emissions free.

Green hydrogen is made using electrolysis powered by renewable energy to split water molecules into oxygen and hydrogen, creating an emissions-free fuel.

“We know hydrogen storage will be crucial in creating a large-scale hydrogen economy in the UK, balancing production and demand and accelerating the transition to net zero,” head of hydrogen development at SSE Thermal, Oonagh O’Grady, said.

“The contracts awarded to Atkins and ERM represent an important milestone in our plans for hydrogen storage at Aldbrough, which would play a major role in building a low-carbon future in the Humber.”