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The unexpected treasure two scientists found

unexpected treasure by scientists

What did they find?

Scientists Jacques Pironon and Philippe De Donato from France’s National Centre of Scientific Research made an unexpected discovery while assessing methane levels in northeastern France using a specialized probe. As they drilled deeper, they found increasing concentrations of hydrogen, suggesting a vast reservoir of hydrogen beneath the surface. This discovery could potentially contain between 6 million and 250 million metric tons of “white hydrogen,” making it one of the largest deposits of naturally occurring hydrogen ever found.

White hydrogen, also known as “natural,” “gold,” or “geologic” hydrogen, is a naturally occurring form of hydrogen present in the Earth’s crust. It has gained attention as a potential clean energy source, particularly for industries like aviation, shipping, and steel-making that require large amounts of energy not easily met with renewables like solar and wind. Unlike gray or brown hydrogen, which are produced from fossil fuels, white hydrogen is seen as a cleaner alternative.

Why the sudden interest?

The interest in white hydrogen has grown in recent years due to its potential as an untapped source of clean energy. While green hydrogen, produced using renewable energy to split water, is promising from a climate perspective, it remains limited in production and expensive. White hydrogen, found naturally in the Earth’s crust, could be a game-changer.

The catalyst for this interest in white hydrogen can be traced back to a well in Mali, West Africa, that unexpectedly produced 98% hydrogen gas. The discovery in Mali challenged existing scientific beliefs about the presence of large hydrogen deposits and sparked further exploration.

Geologists have been studying the formation of white hydrogen deposits, with two main processes identified: serpentinization and radiolysis. These deposits have been found in various parts of the world, including the US, eastern Europe, Russia, Australia, Oman, France, and Mali. The global potential for white hydrogen is estimated to be in the tens of billions of tons, far surpassing current and projected hydrogen production levels.

Whats the future?

Startups have emerged to explore and tap into these white hydrogen reserves. For instance, Gold Hydrogen in Australia is drilling in South Australia after discovering historical boreholes with high hydrogen concentrations. Koloma and Natural Hydrogen Energy, based in Denver, have secured substantial investments to fund their white hydrogen projects. The goal is to move from hype to commercial reality, although challenges such as regulatory hurdles, cost considerations, and the need for deeper drilling still exist.

The future of white hydrogen as a clean energy source holds great promise, but it will require a transition from theoretical potential to commercial viability. As scientists and startups work to extract and utilize these natural hydrogen deposits, it could significantly impact the global energy landscape and contribute to addressing the climate crisis. The journey to realizing this potential, however, is expected to involve years of trial and error before it becomes a widespread and economically viable energy source.

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