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World On Threshold Of Natural Hydrogen “Gold Rush,” Geologists Say

World On Threshold Of Natural Hydrogen “Gold Rush,” Geologists Say

Speaking this weekend at a Denver meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, geologists heralded a coming, game-changing surge in mankind’s harvesting of a resource long thought impractical to collect: naturally-occurring or “geologic hydrogen.” 

The scientists provided a first look at the findings of an as-yet-unpublished study performed by the US Geological Survey (USGS). The key takeaway: naturally-occurring hydrogen is far more abundant near the Earth’s surface than previously known. Researchers say the planet holds upwards of 5 trillion tons of hydrogen, trapped in underground pockets.

“Most hydrogen is likely inaccessible, but a few percent recovery would still supply all projected demand — 500 million tons a year — for hundreds of years,” said Geoffrey Ellis, a USGS research geologist, as reported by the Financial Times. The supply has gone largely unnoticed due to scientists’ earlier assumptions about how natural hydrogen is formed and how it’s degraded. “We haven’t looked for hydrogen resources in the right places with the right tools,” said Ellis.

Better-equipped and more enlightened, geologists are discovering hydrogen reserves in many places, including a chromite mine in Albania from which 200 tons are flowing every year.

Today, hydrogen used as a fuel or industrial material is primarily produced by chemically altering gas principally composed of methane. When resulting carbon emissions are captured, the product is called “blue hydrogen.” When they’re not, it’s called “grey hydrogen.” In 2022, grey hydrogen accounted for 92% of the hydrogen market by value. “Green hydrogen,” which results when water molecules are split via electrolysis in a process powered by renewable energy, is still marginal.

Naturally occurring geologic hydrogen is called “gold hydrogen,” and the geologists say it has a better ecological-impact profile than blue or even green hydrogen: Electrolysis requires a large amount of electricity.

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