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Geological hydrogen raises the hopes of the energy sector

Is the potential of hydrogen (H2) sufficient to promote the decarbonization of the energy systems?

Most skeptics’ opinions may be changed by the United States Geological Survey (USGS), a scientific agency of the U.S. government that studies land, resources, and natural hazards through a combination of expertise in biology, geography, and hydrogeology.

The USGS team is proceeding through modeling work that aims to determine the value of geologic hydrogen, found deep in the Earth’s crust, within natural reservoirs. This type is referred to as white or golden hydrogen: a resource that could mark a turning point for the energy sector, particularly in industries where electrification is not an appropriate solution.

Between limits and opportunities

According to researchers, the average volume of geological hydrogen could meet the world’s demand for tens of hundreds of years. However, there is a geological limit that is challenging to overcome: this gas is stored in regions that are difficult to access. For that reason, at present, its extraction would be economically disadvantageous.

USGS scientists seem optimistic: it would be enough to extract a tiny fraction of this volume of H2 to power our societies for several centuries.

The Next Steps

The goals now are to map deposits with favorable geology and understand how to cost-effectively extract the gas. 

Efforts will focus on the eastern coastal plain and in the center of the country, where there are substantial amounts of minerals that are capable of forming hydrogen. However this consideration is not enough for the success of the project; in fact, rock structures will have to be studied to understand which conformations are most suitable for millennia-old gas storage.

To promote the commercial exploitation of geological hydrogen, the production of ad hoc tools and technologies is necessary. Steel machinery, used in the oil & gas industry, would not be able to cope with the contact with this gas.

A gigantic deposit in France

And Europe is not standing idly by. The CNRS (Centre national de la recherche scientifique) recently discovered one of the largest natural hydrogen deposits. Located in Lorraine, a northeastern region of France, the reservoir could contain about 46 million tons of hydrogen, the equivalent of more than half of the world’s current annual production of gray hydrogen.


Read also: The Advent of Hydrogen, a Gas Which Is Growing
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