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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 An unpublished report by the US Geological Survey identifies it as a new primary resource, and fires the starter pistol on a new gold rush.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 In a Denver meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, he previewed the results of an as-yet unpublished study, according to the Financial Times.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: 3, Insightful) by JoeMerchant on Wednesday February 28, @01:00PM (4 children)

    by JoeMerchant (3937) on Wednesday February 28, @01:00PM (#1346632)

    Estimates of 500 million tons of hydrogen extraction per year translate to 4.5 billion tons of clean fresh water per year at the points of burning - that's not a bad thing....

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  • (Score: 1, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 28, @03:39PM (3 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 28, @03:39PM (#1346653)

    Estimates of 500 million tons of hydrogen extraction per year translate to 4.5 billion tons of clean fresh water per year at the points of burning - that's not a bad thing....

    The world currently uses more than 4 trillion tonnes of fresh water per year. So even if you can somehow recover 100% of the water produced by this process (you can't), this is equivalent to reducing water usage by one tenth of one percent. It is a totally irrelevant amount of water and (perhaps outside of a few niche applications) will simply not be worthwhile to build the infrastructure needed to collect it

    • (Score: 3, Insightful) by JoeMerchant on Wednesday February 28, @05:25PM (2 children)

      by JoeMerchant (3937) on Wednesday February 28, @05:25PM (#1346668)

      I agree, it's a "trivial" amount of water, until your hydrogen vent is located in a desert. Somewhere with little rain could benefit from running the product of combustion through a condenser...

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      • (Score: 1, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 28, @07:30PM (1 child)

        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 28, @07:30PM (#1346696)

        I agree, it's a "trivial" amount of water, until your hydrogen vent is located in a desert. Somewhere with little rain could benefit from running the product of combustion through a condenser...

        Using the hydrogen to power a tanker truck carrying water will give you orders of magnitude more water than you can possibly hope to recover from the combustion. If someone's running a hydrogen extraction operation in the middle of the desert with literally no other sources of water, they probably have to build a road first to get equipment and personnel in and out. Even if there is no way to drive a tanker truck in, airlifting the water is probably still more cost effective.

        Sure, in extremely specific niche applications it is probably possible to find some uses for the water generated by hydrogen fuel that make economic sense. It will not be normal, just like it is not normal to collect the water that results from burning hydrocarbon fuels today.

        For a real-world example of such a niche application, the Apollo CSM did use the water produced by its hydrogen fuel cells (this also turned out to be a bit of a problem once [wikipedia.org]).

        • (Score: 2) by JoeMerchant on Wednesday February 28, @10:00PM

          by JoeMerchant (3937) on Wednesday February 28, @10:00PM (#1346726)

          >they probably have to build a road first to get equipment and personnel in and out

          That's pretty normal and routinely done for oil wellheads the world over for a century now.

          >If someone's running a hydrogen extraction operation in the middle of the desert with literally no other sources of water

          Or just a shortage of water, like the local population is already stretching it thin and the new crew to run the generator station will make it worse, except they won't because they'll be making all the water _they_ need for people to maintain the power station, plus surplus for the locals.

          >Even if there is no way to drive a tanker truck in, airlifting the water is probably still more cost effective.

          If you can put it in bottles with tropical island branding on them, you can literally profit after shipping it worldwide - to certain sucker-markets. Not that that's a good idea, but it has been done for decades.

          >It will not be normal, just like it is not normal to collect the water that results from burning hydrocarbon fuels today.

          Except: hydrocarbons and soot aren't great in your drinking water. Control the combustion of H and O and you do get a clean product without fussy filtering / purification.

          https://www.anl.gov/article/six-things-you-might-not-know-about-hydrogen [anl.gov]

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