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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 An unpublished report by the US Geological Survey identifies it as a new primary resource, and fires the starter pistol on a new gold rush.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 In a Denver meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, he previewed the results of an as-yet unpublished study, according to the Financial Times.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: 2) by quietus on Wednesday February 28, @07:03PM (2 children)

    by quietus (6328) on Wednesday February 28, @07:03PM (#1346690) Journal

    As noted elsewhere, storing Hydrogen is troublesome, so this could be best for high usage cases where the tank(s) on the vehicle are filled frequently. If you leave a Hydrogen car at the airport parking lot for a few weeks there may not be much H2 left...

    This is a canard. There are 1,600 miles of hydrogen pipeline [] in the United States alone and, if they are about the same age as the ones in Europe, a lot of that mileage was constructed in the 50s and 60s. Apparently it is not even that hard to convert existing natural gas pipelines for hydrogen transport, through means of a polyester film on the inside (Europe), while you guys in the US are thinking towards fiber reinforced polymer (FRP) pipelines (for new pipelines).

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  • (Score: 1, Touché) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 28, @09:57PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 28, @09:57PM (#1346725)

    > This is a canard.

    May I politely suggest that *you* are a canard as well? Comparing pipelines that are built once and stay in place is a far different problem than a tank designed for a vehicle.

    First off, natural gas pipelines that I'm aware of operate at a pressure ranging from 30 to 200 bar. The big G tells me that, "The carbon fibre-reinforced plastic tanks store the hydrogen [in Toyota MIRAI] at a pressure of 700 bar". There are plenty of other differences in these two use cases as well--comparing oranges and apples is rarely successful.

  • (Score: 2) by JoeMerchant on Wednesday February 28, @10:15PM

    by JoeMerchant (3937) on Wednesday February 28, @10:15PM (#1346731)

    Pipelines leak, it's one of their primary attributes.

    Non-leaking hydrogen pipelines across miles will be expensive to construct and maintain - far more expensive than current oil pipelines.

    🌻🌻 []