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New Colors of Hydrogen from the Depths

image credit: C. Bickel,
John Benson's picture
Senior Consultant, Microgrid Labs

PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE: Microgrid Labs, Inc. Advisor: 2014 to Present Developed product plans, conceptual and preliminary designs for projects, performed industry surveys and developed...

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  • Mar 7, 2023

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The title of this paper actually describes its content very well, although I’m sure it will leave most readers confused. That is, most readers that are not members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and don’t regularly read their weekly issue of Science. But now at least you know where my main lead came from.

Would you believe there are vast amounts of relatively pure hydrogen underground, and we can drill wells to extract this? Read on.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Mar 7, 2023

What would be the potential environmental impacts of such drilling? Would they just mirror that of oil and gas or is there something unique to it? 

John Benson's picture
John Benson on Mar 7, 2023

Most of the environmental impacts of oil & gas drilling happen after these substances leave the ground. Oil contaminates the land, and methane (most of the percentage of natural gas) is a very powerful greenhouse gas. Hydrogen has neither of these effects. Furthermore, any accidental release of hydrogen would float into upper the atmosphere (it's lighter than air - witness the Hindenburg) and quickly be oxidized (but not like the Hindenburg, and with no significant environmental impacts, just a tiny amount of water vapor).


Roger Arnold's picture
Roger Arnold on Mar 8, 2023

This is still pretty speculative stuff. But it's in line with a recent change in thinking about helium availability as well. There have been some new discoveries of helium gas accumulations in reservoirs not associated with oil and gas deposits. They're very old rock reservoirs. Helium production from radioactive decay of uranium and thorium has been going on for billions of years. The thinking is that it has probably taken hundreds of millions of years for helium to migrate through crustal rocks and accumulate in reservoir formations. The same could be true of hydrogen. If so, the reservoirs that are found to exist might not be renewable on a human timescale. And probably not very extensive. But we'll have to see how things develop. 

Julian Silk's picture
Julian Silk on Mar 8, 2023

How much would it cost to drill a research well into one of these reservoirs and check this out?  It sounds like the infrastructure for it is not yet developed.

John Benson's picture
John Benson on Mar 13, 2023

Roger & Julian, thanks for the comments.

The other piece of good news that don't believe I included in this post is, this will give the petroleum industry a future role in our evolution to a clean economy, which is important.

They are certainly very good at drilling deep wells and extracting resources. I had some thoughts on other future roles in a post a few years ago (see below, subsection 4.2.2).

Tough Love – Part 1: This is a two-post paper in Part 1 we will focus on top three greenhouse gas emitters: transportation, electricity production, and industry.


John Benson's picture
Thank John for the Post!
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