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posted by hubie on Wednesday February 28, @10:34AM   Printer-friendly

https://newatlas.com/energy/geologic-hydrogen-gold-rush/

There's enough natural hydrogen trapped underground to meet all projected demands for hundreds of years. An unpublished report by the US Geological Survey identifies it as a new primary resource, and fires the starter pistol on a new gold rush.

The "black gold" oil rush in the US started in 1859, when one Edwin Drake drove a stake into the Pennsylvania soil and oil started flowing out. The gold hydrogen rush may have a similar moment to point back to; in 1987, as one Mamadou Ngulo Konaré tells the story, well diggers gave up on a 108-m (354-ft) deep dry borehole, but he and other villagers in Bourakébougou, Mali, noticed that wind was blowing out of it. When one of the drillers looked in, smoking a cigarette, it blew up in his face, causing severe burns as well as a huge fire.

That fire, as Science quoted Konaré, burned "like blue sparking water, and did not have black smoke pollution. The color of the fire at night was like shining gold." It took weeks to put the fire out and plug the hole, but subsequent analysis showed the gas coming out was 98% pure hydrogen. Celebratory mangos were served. Some years later, a little 30 kW Ford generator was hooked up, and Bourakébougou became the first village in the world to enjoy the benefits of clean, naturally occuring hydrogen as a green energy source.
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Either way, the situation has now changed, big time. Geoffrey Ellis, of the US Geological Survey, has been investigating the global potential of geo-locked "gold" hydrogen as a new primary resource. In a Denver meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, he previewed the results of an as-yet unpublished study, according to the Financial Times.

In short, there are as many as 5.5 trillion tons of hydrogen in underground reservoirs worldwide. It may have been generated by the interaction of certain iron-rich minerals with subterranean water. In some cases, it may be mixed in with other gases such as methane, from which it would need to be separated. But it's there, in such extraordinary quantities that analysts are expecting a gold hydrogen rush at a global scale.

It may not be super easy to get to: "Most hydrogen is likely inaccessible," Ellis told the Financial Times. "But a few per cent recovery would still supply all projected demand – 500 million tonnes a year – for hundreds of years."

Gold hydrogen won't won't hog renewable energy like electrolyzers, or divert it away from other decarbonization opportunities. In that sense, you could argue it'll have the potential to be significantly greener than green hydrogen. On the other hand, if tapping it releases methane into the atmosphere, that's a serious issue; methane is around 85 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide over a 20-year time frame.


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  • (Score: 5, Interesting) by janrinok on Wednesday February 28, @11:12AM (9 children)

    by janrinok (52) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday February 28, @11:12AM (#1346624) Journal

    It is strange that you ignore the oxygen that will be used up when burning fossil fuels, the by-products of which are far more harmful to people. Or do you think that this is trivial?

    The by-products of hydrogen fuel are far less harmful to us. Burning hydrogen will also create potable water which some parts of the world desperately need both to support human life and the successful cultivation of enough food to feed everyone. As TFS states this will also provide power in areas that currently have very little.

    Of course, the oxygen in the atmosphere is continually being replaced. Perhaps if we stop cutting down the trees that we have (and need!) there will be an acceptable balance to be found.

    TFS does not provide all the answers. But it shows that there is fuel aplenty if we use it wisely, but more research and development is needed before we have a practical exploitable system.

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  • (Score: 2, Informative) by Mojibake Tengu on Wednesday February 28, @12:01PM (1 child)

    by Mojibake Tengu (8598) on Wednesday February 28, @12:01PM (#1346628) Journal

    That is not strange. Oxygen burned from fossil fuels (carbohydrates) into CO2 can be easily recycled by plants, as usual in famous planetary reproduction cycle.
    Water just stays water and its consumed oxygen stays consumed. And we already know what industrial metrics are capable of.

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    • (Score: 5, Informative) by JoeMerchant on Wednesday February 28, @12:56PM

      by JoeMerchant (3937) on Wednesday February 28, @12:56PM (#1346631)

      Total mass of Earth's atmosphere: 5.5 quadrillion tons

      Oxygen content: 21% -> 1150 trillion tons of atmospheric oxygen

      Water content by mass: 2 parts Hydrogen, 16 parts Oxygen

      For every ton of hydrogen burned, 8 tons of atmospheric oxygen will be converted to water

      USGS estimate for hydrogen extraction rate: 500 million tons per year, burned would use 4 billion tons of atmospheric oxygen per year

      4 / 1150000 = 0.000003478 or 0.0003478% of atmospheric oxygen consumption per year, or 287 years to consume 0.1% of current atmospheric oxygen.

      Oxygen contained in crust in compounds such as iron oxide, calcium carbonate, etc.: Significant.

      My vote: we start burning the hydrogen, which will be mostly capturing oxygen rereleased by photosynthesis from the 50 years of extremely high hydrocarbon burning of the last 50 years, and study the problem for the next 50 years before freaking out about it.

      Challenges: if we don't burn the hydrogen very near the points of extraction, it will start accumulating in the upper atmosphere in significant quantities, altering the chemistry of the strato/mesosphere and continuing our warming woes.

      https://www.edf.org/blog/2022/03/07/hydrogen-climate-solution-leaks-must-be-tackled [edf.org]

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  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 28, @03:09PM (4 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 28, @03:09PM (#1346646)

    Burning hydrogen will also create potable water which some parts of the world desperately need both to support human life and the successful cultivation of enough food to feed everyone.

    This is fantasy. The water which comes out of a hydrogen-burning engine is not going to be potable, for the exact same reasons that the water which comes out of a dehumidifier is not potable (ever noticed that dehumidifiers are plastered with warnings that say don't drink the water?). This technology will not do anything to solve drinking water shortages in poor areas because the problem in these areas is not the lack of access to water, it is the lack of access access to safe water.

    And with respect to agriculture, which currently makes up around half of all the world's water usage (with most of the rest being industrial uses), this is not going to produce water in sufficient quantities to make any difference whatsoever.

    • (Score: 4, Touché) by janrinok on Wednesday February 28, @03:37PM (3 children)

      by janrinok (52) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday February 28, @03:37PM (#1346651) Journal

      the problem in these areas is not the lack of access to water, it is the lack of access access to safe water.

      It is a lot easier to purify water that you have than to have no water at all.

      • (Score: 1, Disagree) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 28, @03:47PM (2 children)

        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 28, @03:47PM (#1346654)

        the problem in these areas is not the lack of access to water, it is the lack of access access to safe water.

        It is a lot easier to purify water that you have than to have no water at all.

        If the people who currently do not have good access to safe water had the resources to do proper water treatment, then the problem of access to safe drinking water is already solved.

        Giving poor people more sources of dangerous-to-drink water doesn't help anyone at all. Basically everyone alive has reasonably easy access to dangerous-to-drink water. This is simply not a problem that needs solving.

        • (Score: 4, Insightful) by janrinok on Wednesday February 28, @06:00PM (1 child)

          by janrinok (52) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday February 28, @06:00PM (#1346675) Journal

          One of the things that is needed to keep a water supply flowing through a purification system is a pump. If they are using hydrogen to generate power then they can use some of that power to drive the pump and the purification plant. It isn't a problem where YOU live, but for many people just getting enough water to drink IS a problem.

          • (Score: 1) by khallow on Thursday February 29, @01:56PM

            by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Thursday February 29, @01:56PM (#1346796) Journal

            If they are using hydrogen to generate power

            I kinda feel, if they're doing that, then they're doing it wrong on several levels. Hydrogen is a poor means to store or transport energy. Even generating energy on site via hydrogen is pretty iffy. Much like methane, there are limited reasons to use hydrogen on site - the locations are typically remote and often don't generate enough power to justify moving the power elsewhere (as electricity).

            One possibility is using hydrogen as a carbon substitute in steel and aluminum production (at a glance [woodmac.com], they combined to contribute over 10% of all CO2 equivalent emissions in 2020 (4 Gt of 35 Gt CO2 equiv)).

            Another is to convert it to easy to burn hydrocarbons like methane or long chains like octane. That also would increase energy storage capacity and reduce leakage. There is significant energy consumption because turning hydrogen+CO2 into methane or other is an endothermic reaction, but it's about a sixth of the energy content of the resulting fuel (165 kJ per mole for Sabatier reaction versus ~920 kJ per mole of methane). Again the green draw here would be fossil fuel displacement.

  • (Score: 3, Informative) by VLM on Wednesday February 28, @09:07PM (1 child)

    by VLM (445) on Wednesday February 28, @09:07PM (#1346713)

    The only issue with burning H2 is stoichiometrically it'll burn hot enough to fix nitrogen, actually worse than with regular fossil fuels. You'll need a somewhat larger/better catalytic converter on a car engine that burns H2, but it'll be roughly the same cat technology as a gasoline-burning engine.

    WRT to sulfur output it'll be cleaner. WRT nitrogen compound output it'll be worse. Carbon output doesn't matter it's only relevant to financial scams. It's roughly a wash.