February 27, 2023 • Paul Rodden • Season: 2023 • Episode: 192
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In episode 192, Science Magazine takes a deep dive into gold hydrogen. I'll discuss the article and give you my thoughts on today's hydrogen podcast.
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Science Magazine takes a deep dive into gold hydrogen. I'll discuss the article and give you my thoughts on today's hydrogen podcast.
So the big questions in the energy industry today are, how is hydrogen the primary driving force behind the evolution of energy? Where is capital being deployed for hydrogen projects globally? And where are the best investment opportunities for early adopters who recognize the importance of hydrogen? I will address the critical issues and give you the information you need to deploy capital. Those are the questions that will unlock the potential of hydrogen, and this podcast will give you the answers. My name is Paul Rodden, and welcome to hydrogen projects.
In an article in science.org, Eric Hand writes Hidden hydrogen: Does Earth hold vast stores of a renewable, carbon-free fuel? Eric writes of a mango tree, Mamadou Ngulo Konaré recounted the legendary event of his childhood. In 1987, well diggers had come to his village of Bourakébougou, Mali, to drill for water, but had given up on one dry borehole at a depth of 108 meters. “Meanwhile, wind was coming out of the hole,” Konaré told Denis Brière, a petrophysicist and vice president at Chapman Petroleum Engineering, in 2012. When one driller peered into the hole while smoking a cigarette, the wind exploded in his face. Konaré continues by saying he didn't die but he was burned. And now we have a huge fire.
The color of the fire in daytime was like blue sparkling water in did not have a black smoke pollution. The color of the fire at night was like shining gold, and all over the fields. We could see each other in the light. We were very afraid that our village would be destroyed. It took the crew weeks to snuff out the fire and cap the well in there it said shunned by the villagers until 2007. That was when Aliou Diallo, a wealthy Malian businessman, politician, and chair of Petrom a, an oil and gas company acquired the rights to prospect in the region surrounding the village. According to Diallo, we have a saying that human beings are made of dirt, but the devil has made a fire. It was a cursed place. I say, well, cursed places I like to turn them into places of blessing. In 2012, he recruited Chapman petroleum to determine what was coming out of the borehole, sheltered from the 50 degree Celsius heat in a mobile lab, Brière and his technicians discovered that the gas was 98% hydrogen that was extraordinary.
Hydrogen almost never turns up in oil operations, and it wasn't thought to exist within the earth much at all. Again, according to Brière we had celebrations with large mangoes that day. Within a few months, Brière’s team had installed a Ford engine tuned to burn hydrogen. Its exhaust was water. The engine was hooked up to a 30-kilowatt generator that gave Bourakébougou its first electrical benefits: freezers to make ice, lights for evening prayers at the mosque, and a flat-screen TV so the village chief could watch soccer games. Children’s test scores also improved. “They had the lighting to learn their lessons before going to class in the morning,” Diallo says. He soon gave up on oil, changed the name of his company to Hydroma, and began drilling new wells to ascertain the size of the underground supply.
The Malian discovery was vivid evidence for what a small group of scientists, studying hints from seeps, mines, and abandoned wells, had been saying for years: Contrary to conventional wisdom, large stores of natural hydrogen may exist all over the world, like oil and gas—but not in the same places. These researchers say water-rock reactions deep within the Earth continuously generate hydrogen, which percolates up through the crust and sometimes accumulates in underground traps. There might be enough natural hydrogen to meet burgeoning global demand for thousands of years, according to a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) model that was presented in October 2022 at a meeting of the Geological Society of America. In a quote from Emily Yedinak, a material scientist who devoted a fellowship at the Advanced Research Projects Energy Agency or ARPA E to drumming up interest in natural hydrogen. When I first heard about it, I thought it was crazy.
The more I read, the more I started to realize, Wow, the science behind how hydrogen is produced is sound, and she wondered to herself why is no one talking about this? Since 2018, however, when Diallo and his colleagues described the Malian field in the International Journal of Hydrogen Energy, the number of papers on natural hydrogen has exploded. It's absolutely incredible and really exponential. This according to geologist Alain Prinzhofer, lead author on the Mali paper and scientific director of GEO4U, a Brazil-based oil and gas services company that is doing more and more hydrogen work. Dozens of startups many in Australia are snatching up the rights to explore
For hydrogen. Last year, the American Association of petroleum geologists formed its first natural hydrogen committee and USGS began its first effort to identifying promising hydrogen production zones in the United States. And a quote from Viacheslav Zgonnik, CEO of Natural Hydrogen Energy. We' re in the very beginning, but it will go fast and 2019 the startup completed the first hydrogen borehole in the United States in Nebraska. The enthusiasm for natural hydrogen comes as interest in hydrogen as a clean, carbon free fuel is surging. Governments are pushing it as a way to fight global warming efforts that were galvanized when Russia invaded Ukraine last year and triggered a hasty search, especially in Europe for alternatives to Russian natural gas. At the moment, all commercial hydrogen has to be manufactured. But that being said, natural hydrogen, if it forms sizable reserves, might be there for the taking, giving the experience drillers and the oil and gas industry a new environmentally friendly mission.
Zgonnik continue saying, I believe that this has the potential to replace all hydrocarbons. That's a very large statement I know. Critically natural hydrogen may not only be clean, but also renewable. It takes millions of years for buried and compressed organic deposits to turn into oil and gas. By contrast, natural hydrogen is always being made a fresh when underground water reacts with iron minerals at elevated temperatures and pressures. And the decades since boreholes began to tap hydrogen in Mali flows have not diminished this according to Prinzhofer, who has consulted on the project. He also says hydrogen reappears almost everywhere as a renewable source of energy, not a fossil one. But it is still in the early days for natural hydrogen. Scientists don't completely understand how it forms and migrates and most important whether it accumulates in a commercially exploitable way. And while there are still some skeptics, some scientists have become true believers. Eric Gaucher, a geochemist at the University of Bern left a career at French oil giant Total because it wasn't moving fast enough on hydrogen.
He believes the Mali discovery might end up in the history books alongside one that happened 163 years ago, in Titusville, Pennsylvania. At the same time, the world knew about seeps of oil in places such as Iraq and California, but was blinded the vast deposits that lay underground. Then on August 27 of 1859, a nearly bankrupt prospector named Edwin Drake, working in Titusville with a steam engine and cast-iron drill pipes, struck black gold at a depth of 21 meters, and began collecting it in a bathtub. Before long, U.S. companies were harvesting millions of bathtubs of oil every day. And in a quote from Gaucher. I'm thinking we're not very far from that with hydrogen. We have the concept. We have the tools, the geology, we only need people able to invest. But what about cost, pumping hydrogen out of the ground should be much cheaper than gray or blue even, which is why proponents sometimes call this stuff gold. Brière says extraction at the Mali site, which benefits from shallow wells, and nearly pure hydrogen could be as cheap as 50 cents a kilogram. Ian Munro, CEO of Helios Aragon, a startup pursuing hydrogen in the foothills of the Spanish Pyrenees says his breakeven cost might end up between 50 and 70 cents.
He says if it does work, it could revolutionize energy production. There's a big if there, but you're not going to get that with green hydrogen right? To me, he says, that's a bottomless pit. Okay, I'm gonna go ahead and pull off here from the article and make this part one. And I'm doing that for a couple of reasons. One, because it is a very long article, and two, because this topic really does need a lot of discussion. Now I remember when I first covered this about two years ago, and one of my first podcasts, I had an extremely respected reservoir engineering firm come and asked me to talk to them about gold hydrogen, because they said it just couldn't exist. And this was two years ago. Now, since that happened, they've gone back and looked at their helium wells, and found hydrogen deposits in those now those wells are in the US also. And so with more and more research going into this, we're seeing that it's not as rare as we thought, and could even be found in vast amounts around the world. Now, as most of you listeners know, I'm not a big fan of the colors, so I'll go and call this natural hydrogen. Now, obviously, time will tell if natural hydrogen is as vastly occurring as the scientists think, or even if it replenishes itself as fast as they assume it could. But if that is the case, and even more pockets of natural hydrogen are found the big question will be, will the transportation sector of hydrogen, including compression, storage, and transportation of the hydrogen itself, be able to keep up with the amount of hydrogen being produced at the sites. I'm also very curious to see what investment is going to look like with natural hydrogen.
As more data is accumulated and analysis run, there will need to be investors to see if this is actually a viable source of hydrogen. And what I fear it may happen, as does happen so many times is an escalation of commitment by the green and blue parties of hydrogen, continuing to invest in those technologies and not realize that there may be a much cheaper, simpler, more elegant solution and extracting natural hydrogen right out of the ground.
Alright, that's it for me, everyone. If you have a second, I would really appreciate it. If you could leave a good review on whatever platform it is that you listen to Apple podcasts, Spotify, Google, YouTube, whatever it is, that would be a tremendous help to the show. And as always, if you ever have any feedback, you're welcome to email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. And as always, take care. Stay safe. I'll talk to you later.
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