In The Spotlight: Michael's projects on (subsurface) energy storage
Every newsletter we ask a fellow second-year EES student about their research project. In particular, we’re curious about what they’re working on, how they’re progressing, and which EES courses from the curriculum were most useful for them. This edition we’ve asked Michael Susan, our very own vice-chair to share his story.
What is your background?
Before joining the EES program back in 2017 I studied Chemical Engineering (BSc) here at the UG. As I wanted to work in engineering but with a focus broader on energy, and in particular the energy transition, I decided to switch to EES. What are you currently working on?
What are you currently working on?
I have recently finished off my second research project. Both my projects have been supervised by prof. Rien Herber and were focused on (subsurface) energy storage. In my first project I compared different methods of storing energy in a salt cavern: compressed air energy storage, underground pumped hydro, hydrogen, and natural gas storage. Here we concluded that hydrogen was the most suitable. I’ve continued studying hydrogen storage in my second research which I have been carrying out as part of an internship with NAM/Shell. There I have been looking at hydrogen transport and storage in pipelines which are currently being used for natural gas.
How’s it all going so far?
Surprisingly good! The second project went a lot smoother than the first. At first I felt like two projects was quite excessive and unnecessary, but I actually really enjoyed it. All the mistakes I made in the first one (not documenting enough as I go along, not formatting from the beginning, etc. etc.) I’ve fixed from the get go in the second one.
Additionally, doing a research project for a company is very motivating. I’ve been involved in some really cool things during my internship, and the results that I have obtained may be used in real projects in the next few years.
How did you come up with the topic that you’re investigating?
My first project started off quite messy. I wanted to work on a geo-energy project in Kenya but prof. Rien Herber and I concluded quite soon that there wasn’t much to look into with the data we had. Instead, we came up with the idea of comparing different types of ‘geo-engineering’. This eventually led to the idea of investigating the potential of pumped hydroelectric storage in the Netherlands. From there it slowly became salt caverns, and ended with hydrogen. I really liked working on energy storage scenarios and became very intrigued with hydrogen. Together with my supervisor from NAM we came up with the hydrogen in pipelines project.
How have the EES courses helped you prepare for this research? Did you personally feel like there were any gaps?
I’d say that the whole ‘systems thinking’ has been very useful. Courses like SIS and MEMS have really shaped the way I look at a problem. Looking back, I think I have learnt to analyze from a bigger picture much more than before when I studied Chemical Engineering. For example, I was researching methods to store hydrogen. While it’s technically possible, there are so many problems that come with it, which are important to consider. Take the ‘chicken and egg’ problem: no one in the Netherlands will currently buy a hydrogen car as there are almost no gas stations that sell hydrogen. At the same time, companies developing hydrogen gas stations won’t invest in the Netherlands because there are almost no hydrogen cars.
Another course that was useful, and many may disagree with me, was S&S. Especially during my internship I’ve learnt how important it is to work on risk communication, creating a business case around a project, and keeping stakeholders in mind at all times.
Has this research helped shape you towards a particular career path?
If you’d ask me a year ago where I would end up I’d have no idea. Two projects later I’ve really become enthusiastic about working on the implementation of hydrogen as a new source of energy to replace fossil fuels.