What is Geologic Hydrogen?
Geologic hydrogen, also known as natural or “white” hydrogen, is hydrogen that occurs naturally on Earth, as opposed to hydrogen produced in a lab or in industry. The “white” hydrogen designation distinguishes it from hydrogen produced from renewable energy sources through the electrolysis of water (green hydrogen), and hydrogen obtained from fossil sources (grey, brown, or black hydrogen)1.
This is probably the most exciting, though possibly far fetched form of hydrogen that is being developed or searched for by researchers.
There are several sources of natural hydrogen. These include the degassing of hydrogen from the Earth’s crust and mantle, the reaction of water with ultrabasic rocks in a process known as serpentinization, and the interaction of water with reducing agents in the Earth’s mantle. Other sources include the interaction of water with freshly exposed rock surfaces (weathering), the decomposition of hydroxyl ions in the structure of minerals, the natural radiolysis of water, the decomposition of organic matter, and biological activity1.
Natural hydrogen is extracted from wells and often mixed with other gases such as nitrogen or helium. Large reservoirs of natural hydrogen have been identified in several countries, including Mali and the United States. There are also numerous emanations of natural hydrogen on the ocean floor, though these are difficult to exploit. The discovery of a significant emergence of natural hydrogen in Russia in 2008 suggests the possibility of extracting native hydrogen in geological environments1.
Natural hydrogen plays an important role in the ecological transition as it does not require an energy-intensive forming process compared to other energy production methods. It has been suggested that natural hydrogen leakages could exceed global consumption needs1.
In recent years, scientists have started to understand the potential of geologic hydrogen as a renewable energy source that could lower the carbon footprint of our energy portfolio. The vast majority of hydrogen used today is manufactured using natural gas through a process that consumes energy and releases large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Utilizing geologic hydrogen would eliminate these carbon emissions. However, there is currently little scientific information available about how much geologic hydrogen exists or where it might be found2.
A model developed by USGS research geologists predicts a mean volume of hydrogen that could supply the projected global hydrogen demand for thousands of years. However, based on what we know about the distribution of petroleum and other gases in the subsurface, most of this hydrogen is probably inaccessible because it’s too deeply buried, too far offshore, or in accumulations that are too small. Despite this, even a small fraction of this estimated volume could likely last for hundreds of years if it could be recovered2.
To understand the potential for hydrogen accumulation, scientists are working to create better geologic models to understand how the hydrogen forms, where it comes from within the rock layers, and where it ends up. They are using the petroleum system approach, a conceptual model used by petroleum geologists to understand the occurrence of petroleum within geologic basins and to guide oil and gas exploration2.
Imagine Drilling for Hydrogen
Since there is already an huge drilling industry for oil, much of the technology required to drill for hydrogen deposits is already available. There may need to be some material changes for some pieces of equipment because hydrogen embrittlement of metals is definitely going to be detrimental to metals that don’t have a protective coating.
Companies like HyTerra, Natural Hydrogen Energy, Gold Hydrogen, and Hydroma are searching for hydrogen deposits, least sites that meet the criteria for hydrogen deposit formation. It’s very similar to oil prospecting and we may be on the cusp of hydrogen prospecting, just as we were on the cusp of oil prospecting and drilling wells in the 1850s in America.
However, this is all still very speculative as there have never been any hydrogen deposits, or functioning hydrogen wells…well not yet anyhow.
I took a look the website for the four companies listed above and did not see any job or career sections on their websites. My guess is that if you use their contact form it might be possible to work for them. They are small businesses, so jobs are few and far between, but if they find a hydrogen deposit, then it is off to the races.