March 02, 2023 • Paul Rodden • Season: 2023 • Episode: 193
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In episode 193, On today’s show, I’ll finish up the rest of science magazines article on natural hydrogen. It gets a little technical, but don’t worry, it’s worth it in the end all of this on today’s hydrogen podcast.
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On today’s show, I’ll finish up the rest of science magazines article on natural hydrogen. It gets a little technical, but don’t worry, it’s worth it in the end all of this 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 the hydrogen podcast.
Okay, so last week, I covered basically the first part of the Science Magazine article entitled hidden hydrogen does Earth hold vast stores renewable carbon free fuel, and today I’m going to finish up that article and continue to give my thoughts on natural hydrogen and how it really could fit into the hydrogen economy in both near term and long term future. The author Eric Hand writes, the main engine of natural hydrogen production is now thought to be a set of high temperature reactions between water and iron rich minerals such as olivine, which dominate Earth’s mantle. One common reaction is called serpentinization because it converts olivine into another kind of mineral called serpentinite.
In the process, the iron oxidizes grabbing oxygen atoms from the water molecules releasing hydrogen. Scientists diving into the submersibles have seen this process up close at the volcanic Mid Atlantic Ridge, where tectonic plates are tugged apart, and the mantle rock rises up to create fresh slabs of ocean crust. At the site known as the last city for the towering white smoke or chimneys. gushing mineral rich hot water, researchers measured high amounts of hydrogen spewing from the ocean floor and on Iceland, which straddles the Mid Atlantic ridge. Isabel Moretti, a geologist at the University of Palau, and the adore region, who herself has documented hydrogen seeping from what’s called Fairy Circles in Brazil, Namibia and Australia have now also recorded comparable hydrogen flows at some of the hot springs and geothermal wells that dot the country. But the hope for commercial natural hydrogen lies closer to potential customers on the continents. prospectors are looking in the cratons’s the ancient cores of the continent.
This is according to Owain Jackson, exploration Director at H2Au, a UK based hydrogen company. trapped within them are bands of iron rich rock called Greenstone belts, which are the remnants of ocean crust that got squeezed between the cratons and ancient continental collisions were olivine and other minerals are very deep enough to be hotter than 200 degrees Celsius and yet still exposed to water percolating from the surface. They can produce hydrogen Jackson who once helped evaluate lease blocks in a region of Mali several 100 kilometers away from Bourakébougou believes the Greenstone belts deep in the West African craton are driving the hydrogen production there. He says we’re just a bit annoyed we gave the block back cratons hold a second major source of iron with hydrogen producing potential This, according to Prinzhofer, one that dates to an evolutionary turning point about 2.4 billion years ago. At the time, oceans were anoxic and saturated and dissolved iron. But then, in a revolution known as the Great oxidation event, ocean living microbes evolved the ability to photosynthesize. The oxygen they emitted caused the iron to fall as rust to the ocean floor where it eventually turned to stone. Like Greenstone belts. Some of these deposits wound up surviving in Craytons and are known today as banded iron formations.
They’re thought to hold some of 60% of the world’s iron reserves. But with that being said Zgonnik favors a third more deep seated source. He thinks primordial hydrogen trapped soon after the planet’s birth and its iron core is seeping through the Earth’s surface through 1000s of kilometers of rock. The evidence is spotty and Zgonnik acknowledges the theory is controversial, and for Prinzhofer the question of where natural hydrogen comes from is academic. He says maybe we are all completely wrong. It doesn’t matter for the industry. The oil industry sprang up long before it understood oils origins he says. Similarly, what matters for the natural hydrogen industry is simply whether there’s enough of the stuff to go after. And now the US Geological Survey is looking to answer that question. Jeffrey Ellis, an organic geochemist at the USGS, thinks the Earth produces orders of magnitude more hydrogen each year than the 90 million tonnes that humans manufacture. But That’s not only the float that matters, it’s the size of the underground stock. He says how much can be trapped in the subsurface so that we can actually go after?
That’s a much more difficult question to answer. He and his USGS colleague Sarah Gelman gave it a try by trying to use a simple box model borrowed from the oil industry. The model accounted for impermeable rock traps of different kinds, the destructive effect of microbes and the assumption based on oil industry expertise, that only 10% of hydrogen accumulations might ever be tapped economically. Ellis says the model comes up with a range of numbers centered around a trillion tons of hydrogen that would satisfy world demand for 1000s of years even if the green energy transition triggers a surge in hydrogen use. Ellis acknowledges that much of this global resource could end up being too scattered to be captured economically, like the millions of tonnes of gold that are dissolved in the oceans at parts per trillion levels, but that worry hasn’t stopped the hydrogen hunters. And now we look at Australia.
While confined by one of Australia’s COVID 19 lockdowns November of 2020, Luke Titus found himself reading an obscure 1944 report bulletin number 22. From the Department of Mines of the Geological Survey of South Australia. It contained an analysis of data from farmers who had banded together to search for oil, using divining rods and other questionable techniques. Titus says there’s even reports of them dipping their hands in kerosene it’s all rather amusing. But Titus, who is the co founder of a company called Gold hydrogen wasn’t laughing when he saw the data from one borehole drilled in 1921. On Kangaroo Island, and it produced as much as 80% Hydrogen. Another well on the nearby York Peninsula was close to 70%. And so in February of 2021, when South Australia expanded its oil regulations to allow drilling for a hydrogen Titus pounced. That same month he submitted an application to explore nearly 8000 square kilometers in the York Peninsula and Kangaroo Island. He created two other paper companies to launch applications on 1000s more square kilometers. Within weeks, he had competitors. He says a bunch of other businesses got wind of it. Now South Australia is in the middle of a hydrogen boom, at least on paper.
The state is blessed with favorable geology. It’s covered by the ancient Gawler Craton, and it’s iron and uranium mines point to the sorts of rocks needed for both serpentinization and radiolysis. With the ocean so close, Titus says the rocks are sure to be water saturated. This year, he plans to conduct an airborne geophysical survey to delineate what he believes is the source rock in the York Peninsula, just 1.8 kilometers down. In January. In an initial public offering on the Australian Stock Exchange, the company raised $20 million, enough to drill an exploratory well, and Titus said we’re working at the bleeding edge. Now in Spain, Munro is waiting for regulations to catch up. Like Gold Hydrogen, his company, Helios Aragon was founded on an old but promising data, a show of 25% hydrogen in the one zone one well drilled in 1963 to a depth of 3.7 kilometers by the National Petroleum Company of Aragon.
And like Titus Munro believes that he’s got an ideal site for hydrogen in the core of the Pyrenees are iron rich marine rocks squeezed and lifted up when the Iberian plate, closed an ocean and rammed it into France some 65 million years ago. Munro says default channel hydrogen produced in those rocks up into porous sandstone layers, which is then kept by a tight shale. Munro plans to drill an exploratory well late in 2024. He says, we believe will be Europe’s first natural hydrogen well, but because his lease was awarded under Spain’s oil laws, and a 2021 climate law has since put a moratorium on new operations. He won’t be able to produce commercially until Spain carves out an exemption for hydrogen. In the United States, the birthplace of fracking in the shale gas boom, the regulatory environment is looser yet again. According to Ellis for unknown reasons to him. It really hasn’t taken off in North America yet.
But Ellis is now using geophysical data to assess promising us terrain for hydrogen generation. He says the United States likely sits on two rich veins. One is about 10 to 20 kilometers off the eastern seaboard, where iron rich mantle rocks lie about 10 kilometers beneath the seabed. He believes hydrogen created in those rocks may be migrating up toward the shore through porous sediments, perhaps explaining why Carolina bays are found along the eastern coast. Another potential hotspot is in the Midwest, where volcanic rift failed to split North America a billion years ago, it brought iron rich mantle rocks close to the surface, and a band from Minnesota to Kansas. That’s the target for Zgonnik. In 2019, natural hydrogen energy completed its 3.4 kilometer deep well, in the middle of a quote unquote water basin, the local term for a fairy circle, and surrounded by corn and soybean fields. The well near Geneva, Nebraska sits close to deep faults that might connect it to the rocks of the failed rift zone, Zgonnik declined to say how much hydrogen the well produces.
But in April of 2022, the company HyTerra bought a stake in the operation. A HyTerra presentation says gas from the well burned with a clear flame, a sign that hydrogen is predominant. Okay, so I’ll go ahead and pull away here from the article and discuss what I just covered. So this second half was a lot more technical than the first half. Now, I don’t think it’s critical at this level of discussion, to really dive into the weeds on the technicalities of what they’re talking about, it is important to know some of the science that all of this is based on, knowing that there are solid data points that they can analyze, to see just how pervasive this natural hydrogen really is. And from the little bit of research that I have been doing on this, there are hundreds of these little pockets around the world that could be expanded even further, depending on how far down geologically speaking, they’re willing to go to analyze these hydrogen pockets. Now, obviously, a lot more research is needed to see just how economic these plays can be. And I’m also sure like I said last time, that there is going to be some infighting within the hydrogen community and economy as to which of these colors, methods, techniques, technologies, is going to prevail. And that really is my warning to the hydrogen industry.
I can see technologies like this being a source of contention, especially with how much money is being invested into the industry right now. Don’t look at this technology as something that’s competitive to any of the other current technologies under development.
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