From Rocks to Watts: Extracting White Hydrogen as a Clean & Economical Energy Solution
Hydrogen has emerged as a major game changer in the quest for a greener and more sustainable future. Its potential as a clean and adaptable energy carrier has sparked considerable interest, and organizations from various industries are eager to explore the numerous opportunities it offers. While technology developers and solution providers around the world are currently focusing on technological advances in the green and blue hydrogen production space, IeB analysts anticipate that white/geologic hydrogen production will see rapid and significant growth in the near future. It has various advantages over other forms of hydrogen production techniques, including lower carbon intensity, less water usage, lower energy requirements, and more. As a result, geologic hydrogen production has received a lot of interest recently, with industry leaders and governments looking into the potential opportunities it offers.
History in a nutshell:
Though geologic hydrogen seeps, such as the Flames of Chimaera in Turkey, have been known for centuries, the understanding of hydrogen-rich gas seeps developed in the late 19th century when Dmitri Mendeleev, the father of the periodic table, discovered hydrogen-rich gas in a coal mine.
In the early 20th century, while exploring oil wells in South Australia, high concentrations of hydrogen gas were found. However, these discoveries were overlooked as the primary goal was to uncover hydrocarbons. Later, in 1987, a water borehole in Mali hit a hydrogen reservoir with a remarkable 98% purity.
Why is Geologic Hydrogen gaining traction?
Fossil fuels are recognized as a key energy source to generate hydrogen due to their easy accessibility and simple apparatus requirements. However, their ability to cause environmental pollution is a major concern. On the contrary, The earth naturally replenishes up to 23 Mt/year or 30% of today’s annual hydrogen demand through oxidation-reduction processes involved in geologic hydrogen production. It has the potential to power electrical grids, run factories, heat homes, and propel vehicles when paired with a fuel cell.
Various hydrogen production methods have been explored, such as coal gasification, steam-methane reforming (SMR), water electrolysis, metal oxide cycle, methane pyrolysis, etc. But unlike other forms of hydrogen, white/ geologic hydrogen—sometimes called native, gold, or natural hydrogen—is considered significantly cost-effective and is sourced through and produced via diversified approaches. Six different ways through which hydrogen is produced naturally are briefly explained:
Radioactive elements, such as uranium, thorium, or potassium, in the crystalline basement rocks in the Earth’s crust decompose water molecules trapped in causing a hydrogen pocket, as in South Australia.
Serpentinization involves liberating hydrogen-rich fluid due to the weathering of mineral olivine in mid-ocean ridges or ophiolites. In this geological formation, sections of the Earth’s mantle rise above sea level. This has been witnessed in the Semail ophiolite in the Hajar Mountains of Oman.
- Deep degassing
Deep degassing involves the escaping of “primary” hydrogen (a single hydrogen atom attached to a single carbon atom) from deep within the Earth’s crust, situated in Nebraska, US
- Iron reduction and sulfur oxidation
In this phenomenon, ferric iron in a black smoker (a subsea hydrothermal vent formed from iron sulfide deposits) is reduced to ferrous iron and hydrogen sulfides.
- Thermal decomposition of organic matter
In the deep-sea thermal decomposition process, ammonium compounds in deep sediments decompose under high temperatures to form hydrogen and nitrogen. For example, in hydrogen-nitrogen gas seeps in Oman
- Biological activity
Specific microbial species inhabiting the Earth’s crust produce hydrogen. These microorganisms are found via sediment or aquifers. This has been observed in the Powder River Basin coal beds in Montana, US.
Comparative assessment of different types of hydrogen:
Comparative assessment of white, grey, blue, green, and yellow hydrogen is being conducted in terms of environmental impact, external energy & water inputs, and surface disruption. White hydrogen is considered the most economical and relatively cleaner option. Each form has merits and challenges, with white and green hydrogen being the most environmentally friendly. Grey and blue hydrogen incorporate carbon capture to reduce their carbon footprint. Also, yellow hydrogen production raises safety and waste disposal concerns associated with nuclear energy.
IeB experts are well-versed in comprehending the broad range of decarbonization techniques, renewable energy technology, and innovative solutions contributing to a greener and more resilient future. We are committed to offering meaningful insights and help to organizations and individuals on their journey towards a low-carbon and sustainable society, with a strong emphasis on research, analysis, and staying current on the newest developments. Whether it’s navigating policy changes, implementing clean energy solutions, or adopting carbon reduction measures, we stand ready to be your trusted partner in achieving a successful decarbonization strategy.
Do you want to know how geologic hydrogen could serve as a promising alternative to green hydrogen, which is likely to be adopted across various industry segments, and how IeB can help you identify new play areas in this space that may synergize with your existing technological know-how, products, and services, thereby positively impacting your revenue?
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