Mon. Feb 26th, 2024

Canada in search of white hydrogen

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Discoveries of hydrogen accumulation in the basement are multiplying around the world. Scientists believe reserves exist in Canada.

  • Tiphanie Roquette (View profile)Tiphanie Roquette

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After gray, blue and green, it is another color of hydrogen that arouses curiosity and hopes of producing energy without greenhouse gas emissions. Many countries, including Canada, have started looking for accumulations of white hydrogen, hydrogen present in its pure state in the ground.

The world has woken up, notes Denis Brière, vice-president of the Calgary-based company Chapman hydrogen and petroleum engineering.

In 2012, the petrophysicist tested the first well of white hydrogen, also called golden, natural, native or geological. Found by chance while drilling for water, the gas is present at 98% purity in the soil of the village of Bourakébougou, Mali.

Everyone thought it was impossible to have accumulations of natural hydrogen because this element was too small.

Political instability in Mali has slowed down the commercialization of this source of pure hydrogen. 10 years ago, this gas was not as sought after as an energy carrier either.

The skepticism of the early days has, however, disappeared, as Denis Brière observes. The eyes of all geologists and engineers around the world were opened. Now, we have many countries that are exploring this natural hydrogen.

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Last year, a potential accumulation of 46 million tonnes of hydrogen was discovered in the soil of Lorraine, a region in northeastern France. A month ago, President Emmanuel Macron promised massive investments to produce this resource.

Exploitation permits are also increasing in Australia. The United States is also working hard to find accumulations of pure hydrogen in the Earth and begin exploiting them.

Omid Haeri Ardakani, a research scientist at the Geological Survey of Canada, says one of the processes for forming pure hydrogen comes from the interaction of water with iron-rich rocks.

The degradation of rocks into radioactive elements such as uranium also leads to a decomposition of the water molecule into oxygen and hydrogen.

We therefore need a rock conducive to these processes as well as a geology allowing this accumulation of hydrogen to be trapped.

L “White hydrogen has become the star of the hour,” said Bruno Pollet, director of the Hydrogen Research Institute at the University of Quebec at Trois-Rivières, in an amused tone. Everyone is looking at it.

In a world trying to reduce its emissions, hydrogen is attracting all attention, since its combustion produces no greenhouse gas emissions.

The production of pure hydrogen is, however, a source of pollution, particularly when it comes from hydrocarbons, as is the majority case today. As for the greener process from electrolysis, it is expensive.

White hydrogen, produced naturally in the ground, would therefore have numerous advantages. There are fewer steps, it uses less energy than other systems, and above all, there is plenty of native hydrogen, explains Bruno Pollet.

The accumulation found in France represents more than half of the annual production of pure hydrogen in the world. Scientists suspect that, unlike hydrocarbons, it is renewable indefinitely.

A little less advanced than other countries, Canada is also looking for accumulations of pure hydrogen in its soil. Since November 2022, the Geological Survey of Canada has been trying to map potential accumulations.

We don't know where the hydrogen is trapped, how it is trapped and, therefore, where the reservoirs are located, notes Omid Haeri Ardakani, researcher at the Geological Survey of Canada.

Oil, gas and mining experience has made it possible to accumulate a good knowledge of the Canadian subsoil, even if natural hydrogen is found in conditions different from those of hydrocarbons.

Canada has a lot of potential because of its extent and of its rock type. More than 50% of Canada is covered in potential sources.

A quote from Omid Haeri Ardakani, researcher at the Geological Survey of Canada

Helium mining areas such as those in Saskatchewan and x27;Alberta could be favorable, as could seismic zones in British Columbia. The greatest potential, however, appears to be in Ontario.

This is where the Chapman company plans to launch its exploration work this year. A first drilling is planned to analyze the fluids and gases present at different depth levels and evaluate the hydrogen concentration.

When we will discover this hydrogen natural, there are others who will have projects for this type of exploration, that's for sure, believes Denis Brière.

Omid Haeri Ardakani does not hide the fact that the work is still long to achieve the commercialization of natural hydrogen.

We are at the same point as it more than 100 years ago when humans found oil leaking to the surface. […] The difference is that we are much more technologically advanced and the pace of discoveries is much faster, he explains.

Bruno Pollet also affirms that the extraction is not that simple. Hydrogen will need to be separated from other gases such as helium. Storing hydrogen in large volumes, how to transport it economically and how to use it are all unresolved issues.

We think that hydrogen will be the magic wand for everything in our energy system, but it will only contribute to part of decarbonization, he emphasizes.

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