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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 An unpublished report by the US Geological Survey identifies it as a new primary resource, and fires the starter pistol on a new gold rush.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 In a Denver meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, he previewed the results of an as-yet unpublished study, according to the Financial Times.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: 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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