NREL Selected as Part of $1.6M in Federal Funding To Explore Potential of Geologic Hydrogen

NREL One of 16 Teams Selected by DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy

April 30, 2024 | By Alyssa Bersine | Contact media relations

An infographic showing Earth's hydrogen factories.
NREL is working with partners to explore the potential of geologic hydrogen. Graphic from Science

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) was recently selected as one of 16 teams to research enhanced production of geologic hydrogen by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) program.

Led by Texas Tech University with partners from NREL, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Rio Tinto, and Lavoisier H2 Geoconsult, this project aims to stimulate hydrogen production from iron-rich mafic and ultramafic rocks via chemical, mechanical, and biological processes.

Changing the Game With Geologic Hydrogen

Geologic hydrogen is currently a poorly understood but potentially groundbreaking energy resource involving certain types of rocks and subsurface environments that produce natural hydrogen. ARPA-E is leading first-of-its-kind federal funding efforts to evaluate ways to stimulate hydrogen production (enhance or increase the natural rates) from geologic resources. Clean hydrogen, including naturally occurring subsurface hydrogen, can sustainably reduce harmful emissions from some of the most energy-intensive sectors of the economy, such as chemical and industrial processes and heavy-duty transportation.

The project will produce valuable scientific research to understand the opportunities this resource presents via a first-of-its-kind research grant on geologic hydrogen stimulation technologies.

"Natural hydrogen production is important because current methods for producing hydrogen are energy intensive, with hydrogen needing to be derived from other sources, like water or methane," said Dayo Akindipe, an NREL research scientist in the Center for Energy Conversion and Storage Systems. "This new process intends to accelerate the production of natural hydrogen by applying multiple stimulation methods to produce hydrogen that can be used for transportation, chemical and industrial processes, and other applications. This research will allow NREL to enable another clean hydrogen pathway."

Led by Akindipe, NREL will support this new project by implementing a microcosm experiment to characterize the rock, water, and hydrogen system. NREL researchers Katherine Chou and Jianping Yu will look at ways to inhibit the microbial uptake of the produced hydrogen and see how biocatalysts can help to increase the rate of hydrogen production. NREL's team will also assist in developing tech-to-market efforts once they have established the viability of the geologic hydrogen system.

Transforming Energy

Akindipe, who has a background in chemical and petroleum engineering, began his career working in the oil and gas industry before coming to NREL. For him, this project merges both his experience and his passion for sustainable energy.

"This ties into my own personal energy transition," he said. "I became even more active in the space of geologic hydrogen because I saw it was a niche area—not just at NREL, but for the entire country. It's an area that the U.S. can tap into that will positively transform the energy space and society."

The funding is part of ARPA-E's Exploratory Topics related to geologic hydrogen, which aim to explore early-stage research and development to advance low-cost, low-emissions hydrogen. This is the first time that the U.S. government has competitively selected teams to research this kind of technology. This energy resource would potentially produce no carbon emissions when burned or used in a fuel cell and will support efforts to reduce costs and enable commercial-scale deployment of clean hydrogen.

The teams selected will explore early-stage research and development to advance low-cost, low-emissions hydrogen, which will help create good-paying jobs and new economic opportunities in communities across the nation while also helping meet climate and decarbonization goals.

"This project is going to tell us a couple of things," Akindipe said. "Firstly, is geologic hydrogen production possible at scale? Secondly, will it be feasible economically and in terms of life cycle emissions? These are the questions this project will answer."

For NREL, this project establishes a first-of-its-kind research in geologic hydrogen—adding a new path toward clean and low-cost hydrogen.

Learn more about NREL geothermal and hydrogen research, as well as the ARPA-E program.

Tags: Hydrogen,Geothermal