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

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 An unpublished report by the US Geological Survey identifies it as a new primary resource, and fires the starter pistol on a new gold rush.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.
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 In a Denver meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, he previewed the results of an as-yet unpublished study, according to the Financial Times.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: 4, Informative) by JoeMerchant on Wednesday February 28, @05:35PM (2 children)

    by JoeMerchant (3937) on Wednesday February 28, @05:35PM (#1346670)

    Most "practical" hydrogen storage and retrieval methods developed for vehicles involve absorption and release beds for the gas. If you try to treat it like CNG or LP it will have tremendous leakage, which is itself an environmental problem even if you can afford the loss in a short term economic analysis.

    Keeping the universe's smallest, lightest molecule contained in gaseous form is actually quite a challenge. If you go for LH2, that requires a temperature of 20K or less which is quite a challenge to both achieve and insulate / maintain in a 300K environment.

    LN2 "only" requires 77K or less. Early MRI magnets operated on LH2, getting the superconductors to work at LN2 temperatures dropped the cost of operation tremendously.

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  • (Score: 2) by quietus on Wednesday February 28, @06:55PM (1 child)

    by quietus (6328) on Wednesday February 28, @06:55PM (#1346689) Journal

    Could you perhaps point to more information about those absorption and release beds? Here is a map [] of hydrogen fuel stations in Germany and Europe (170 opened, 45 in various stages of implementation); these apparently use what's called LOHC technology (scroll down to linky 08 Information about the LOHC Technology), which seems to be a variant of what you're mentioning.

    • (Score: 4, Informative) by JoeMerchant on Wednesday February 28, @07:58PM

      by JoeMerchant (3937) on Wednesday February 28, @07:58PM (#1346700)

      It has been a while (almost 30 years for this article) I hope they've advanced since then:

      In 1995, the Capella carried a metal hydride hydrogen storage device were the gas is literally absorbed into the material and then released on demand. Misumi says energy density using this approach was good and bettered that of liquid gas. But the weight penalty, some 400kg, has so far proved insurmountable. Hydrides are also slow to fill. Substantial heat is generated during the filling and release of hydrogen and they are costly. []

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