The history and promise of geological hydrogen for fuel

The history and promise of geological hydrogen for fuel

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It got here to him in a dream. Dmitri Mendeleev, the person who invented the periodic desk and periodic legislation, confronted poverty in Siberia, prejudice in Moscow, tuberculosis in St. Petersburg and the Crimean warfare whereas convalescing from tuberculosis. On her deathbed his mom cautioned: “Be cautious of phantasm; work, seek for divine and scientific fact.” 

In February 1869 he wrote the properties of some components and performed something like chemical solitaire to attempt to perceive the sample earlier than falling asleep. Mendeleev later wrote: “In a dream I noticed a desk the place all the weather fell into place as required. Awakening, I instantly wrote it down on a chunk of paper.” 

Hydrogen, the lightest and most considerable aspect within the recognized universe, stays the place he wrote it, alone within the higher left nook of his periodic desk of the weather. In 1888 Mendeleev measured 5.8 to 7.5% hydrogen gasoline seeping from cracks within the Makiivka coal mine within the Donetsk area of Ukraine. Chemists have been nicely conscious of hydrogen’s relationship to water once they named it hydrogen, however his was one of many first scientific measurements of geologic hydrogen.

Hydrogen as the proper gas

Fast ahead to the Seventies when environmentalists have been starting to grasp what Eunice Newton Foote and different nineteenth century scientists had predicted in regards to the impact of carbon dioxide on our climate. Coal, wooden, oil and pure gasoline all launch carbon dioxide once they burned however hydrogen burns clear, producing solely water vapor. The hydrogen economic system hype appeared too good to be true. Our environment isn’t pure oxygen so a hydrogen flame produces some nitrogen oxides (NOx) however it emits far much less air pollution that any hydrocarbon would. Scientists and environmentalists have been in settlement, hydrogen is the proper gas!

Hydrogen hydrogen all over the place however not a molecule to burn

There is one drawback. Where will we get the hydrogen? The solar is 73% hydrogen and Jupiter is 90% hydrogen however they’re hardly as handy as your native gasoline station. Every molecule of water on the earth’s oceans accommodates two elements hydrogen and one half oxygen. By mass the oceans are 10% hydrogen. But the hydrogen in H2O is caught tightly to the oxygen so it takes power to separate the hydrogen from the oxygen in water. Electrolysis is a course of which makes use of electrical energy to do that however effectivity ranges are lower than 70%. So it takes about six kilowatt-hours of electrical energy to separate the hydrogen from oxygen in a 1-liter bottle of water. (See footnote beneath)

That can be sufficient to run a tv and fridge for about ten hours. If that electrical energy comes from green or carbon neutral fuels we will think about this to be inexperienced hydrogen. Manufactured hydrogen isn’t a substitute for fossil fuels however it may be a helpful technique to retailer power to be burned or utilized in fuel cells.

Geologic Hydrogen

But what if we didn’t have to separate hydrogen from oxygen? What if there have been locations just like the coal mine Mendeleev studied in Ukraine with a fair increased share of hydrogen? Like the chemical patterns revealed in Mendeleev’s dream, so-called geologic hydrogen was there all alongside however we weren’t searching for it, or we have been trying within the fallacious locations.

Most recognized hydrogen producing vents are in Eastern Europe and Russia as a result of individuals there have been trying, partly as a result of Russian scientists had accepted an abiotic petroleum idea that required hydrogen as an alternative of natural matter to create underground oil reserves. The western scientific belief that free geologic hydrogen was rare became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Hydrogen is usually used as a service gasoline in chromatography devices used to survey geologic gasoline. This made these devices blind to geologic hydrogen.

Prospectors began trying more durable in response to the power scarcity brought on by Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022. One such supply of “hidden” geologic hydrogen is the place an eternal flame burns on Mount Chimaera in Turkey. In his second e book of Historia Naturalis (77 AD), Pliny the Elder referred to writings by Ctesias within the fifth century BC suggesting that these vents which “burned with a flame that doesn’t die by day or evening” have been the origin of the legendary fire-breathing lion-goat monster named Chimera. This can be believed to be the place the place the unique Olympic torch was lit. The torch within the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo Japan was lit from a cauldron that burned manufactured inexperienced hydrogen.

geological hydrogen fuel

Photo of pure fires on Mount Chimaera, Turkey by Carole Raddato from FRANKFURT, Germany

How does geology create hydrogen?

The actual processes aren’t recognized for all sources of geologic hydrogen however among the fundamental chemistry would’ve been recognized by 1904 when Howard Lane constructed a tool that used a response between iron and steam to generate hydrogen. Lane’s course of was used to inflate balloons for the St. Louis exposition and airships such because the Graf Zeppelin. There are locations deep underground the place water is available in contact with sizzling iron-bearing rock. The iron-rich mineral olivine is frequent within the earth’s mantle and when it comes into contact with water, a response known as serpentinization happens which takes oxygen from water and produces hydrogen and one other mineral known as Serpentinite. 

serpentinite as hydrogen fuel

Photo of serpentinite by Hermann Hammer

Other hydrogen producing reactions happen deep throughout the earth however some, akin to radiolysis the place the power from radioactive decay splits water are regarded as too sluggish to provide helpful quantities of hydrogen. The serpentinization reactions could also be sooner than the sluggish organic decay which produces coal and petroleum.

Follow the hydrogen faeries

The geology which favors coal, oil and tar-sands is just not essentially ideally suited for producing and trapping hydrogen. Hydrogen can escape or chemically bond with porous sedimentary rock and a few microbes eat it. If excessive purity geologic sources of hydrogen are frequent sufficient to interchange some fossil fuels, we might discover ourselves in a brand new age of hydrogen prospecting. 

Fortunately nature provides us some clues. Fairy circles are round patches the place grass and different plantlife is altered. Like the Chimera of Turkey, numerous legends tried to clarify what triggered them. In English and Celtic folklore stated they have been brought on by faeries dancing in a circle and if a human joined them, they’d be compelled to bop till they handed out. We now perceive that many are triggered when bushes, mushrooms, decaying stumps and different natural matter alter the soil. But they may also be brought on by hydrogen seeping from underground cracks.

A article entitled Hidden Hydrogen by Eric Hand describes some latest discoveries of geologic hydrogen. One is by a person named Luke Titus who learn a 1944 Geologic survey of South Australia in the course of the Covid-19 lockdown. He realized about the usage of divining rods and different uncommon prospecting strategies and boreholes on Kangaroo island which produced as much as 80% pure hydrogen. Mr. Titus acquired prospecting rights within the area and based an organization known as Gold Hydrogen.

Other promising sources of geologic hydrogen have been present in Brazil, Namibia, Iceland, Canada, Finland and the US.

The Hidden Hydrogen article describes a 1987 discovery in Mali the place a water-well driller was smoking close to the place wind got here from the dry bore gap. He set off an explosion with a flame that was “…like blue glowing water and didn’t have black smoke air pollution. The colour of the fireplace at evening was like shining gold, and everywhere in the fields we may see one another within the mild.”

Another place the place geologic hydrogen is well-known are the black-smoker vents discovered the place volcanic oceanic ridges meet the water of the deep ocean. The relative inaccessibility of this hydrogen is a reminder that there’s a distinction between realizing the place hydrogen exists and having the ability to economically extract it with out inflicting different undesirable environmental destruction.

For chemists, geologists and environmentalists, geologic hydrogen could also be a flash within the pan, or it is perhaps a brand new hydrogen “gold rush” that ceaselessly modifications the world.


My father is a retired science instructor who as soon as known as the native energy firm after calculating how a lot electrical energy it could take to separate sufficient water to generate sufficient hydrogen and oxygen to lift the Titanic. When firm officers realized he wasn’t an industrial buyer, they didn’t name him again. Assuming a 131186287 liter Titanic slightly below the floor and I get:

131186287L/1865L/ 6 kWh = 70,348kWh * 6 = 422,092kWh

422,092 kilowatt-hours * 0.12/kWh = $50,651

This is surprisingly cheap although that is solely within the ideally suited case the place an intact Titanic lies simply beneath the floor, not the place it sits on the underside 3800 meters beneath. The inverse gives perspective the titanic quantity of hydrogen and oxygen that should come collectively to provide 422,092 kWh of power.