A lateral view of Japanese hydrogen tanker Suiso Frontier loading a cargo of liquid hydrogen at the Australian port of Hastings in Victoria

Can thermodynamic modelling help scale up liquid hydrogen storage?

Liquid hydrogen (LH2) has the potential to meet rising demand for low-carbon fuel, but its physical properties make it challenging to transport and store at a suitably commercial scale. New infrastructure will be necessary. What makes LH2 storage so challenging and how can digital reservoir modelling techniques help?

By Suchismita Sanyal, General Manager for Computational Science on Mar 8, 2022

The energy sector has vast experience in producing, transporting and storing cryogenic fuels such as liquefied natural gas (LNG). But storing hydrogen as a liquid involves even lower temperatures than for LNG, which means that existing technologies are not directly applicable to creating an LH2 supply chain. 

Researching and developing a supply chain for liquid hydrogen

The key building blocks in such a supply chain are the production and liquefaction facilities, onshore storage at terminals and carrier ships for transportation between them. Indeed, Shell is already involved in projects across the hydrogen fuel cycle, for example, it is planning to produce hydrogen from a 200-MW electrolyser in the Port of Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Shell is also leading a world-class consortium in the US Department of Energy (DOE) H2@Scale project to develop and test designs of technologies to store hydrogen in liquid form.

Members of the research team stand in front of a liquid hydrogen tank during a field trip at a facility of the United States’ National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Members of the research team stand in front of a liquid hydrogen tank during a field trip at a facility of the United States’ National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA's Kennedy Space Center is a research partner in the H2@Scale project.

The DOE project relates to designing an affordable, large-scale LH2 storage tank for maritime applications for installation at import and export terminals. In addition to handling fluids at very low temperatures, the new infrastructure will have to deal with the parts-per-million water concentrations present when hydrogen is produced by electrolysis. These tiny quantities of water become extremely important when defining a safe and achievable operating envelope for LH2 operations, not least because the combination of LH2 and water can, in some circumstances, be explosive.

The role Thermodynamic modelling and material science play

Thermodynamic modelling and materials science expertise will ensure that the new tank system is safe, and that it balances technical performance with commercial requirements without overengineering. The first step is detailed pressure–volume–temperature (PVT) modelling, a technique familiar to reservoir engineers. But instead of modelling hydrocarbons in reservoir rock, the team will be assessing how hydrogen–water mixtures behave in various tank designs across a range of temperature and pressure conditions.

Then experts from the consortium will work together to select and test the most appropriate materials for the tank and its insulation system. The team will next build a demonstration tank based on the selected design and test its thermal and mechanical performance. The project is expected to last about three years and will deliver some vital insights into the viability of a commercial-scale LH2 supply chain.


Banner image courtesy of HySTRA. The Suiso Frontier is the world’s first liquefied hydrogen carrier and it is also part of a pioneering project to make, liquefy and transport liquid hydrogen by sea between Australia and Japan: Project HySTRA. Shell brings to the HySTRA project its experience in managing complex supply chains and its experience and expertise to the ship design, construction and operation, and safety leadership to manage risks associated with the transport of bulk liquefied hydrogen.

Suchismita Sanyal is the General Manager, Computational Science at Shell Technology Centre Bangalore. She leads a group of 60 researchers in the Computational Science group in Shell, delivering digital solutions across multiple Shell businesses and designed to position Shell on a stronger foothold in the energy transition.

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