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The Emperor's New Hydrogen Economy
Updates: Chapter 5 - Producing Hydrogen

Last updated 2024.02.29

In the original book, I wrote: "There are no hydrogen wells."
As of 2014, it appears there is one. One. In Mali. Where hydrogen is burned in an internal combustion engine (no fuel cells) to turn a generator to produce electricity at village scale.

2024.02.29 - Using a Leap Day seems appropriate for mentioning the recent hype around 'white' or 'gold' hydrogen. This has been discussed for at least 3 decades now of which I am aware. To my knowledge, there is only one example of hydrogen from a geologic structure being used benefcially, in Mali. I'm not throwing any shade on what they are accomplishing there, but before you think this is a global panacea, do some research.

Some or the more restrained examples of the hype in mainsteam media.
Prospectors hit the gas in the hunt for ‘white hydrogen’ (The Guardian)
A new gold rush? The search for the natural hydrogen motherlode is coming to Canada

and some not so modest ...
How Hydroma launched the white hydrogen wave from a Malian village

However, I suggest you consider some of the reality about this potential energy source.

It's not renewable. When we use up such a deposit, it's gone.
Fugitive hydrogen emissions are effectively a greenhouse gas, either as water vapour, or by interfering with the degradation of methane in the atmosphere.
We aren't good at finding it. The Mali discovery was an accident (looking for water), as was the one in France (looking for fossil methane gas) As is the discovery in a chromium mine in Albania.
We aren't good at producing it.
We aren't good on dealing with it safely; in Mali the discovery led to injuries because we are not familiar with hydrogen's properties outside of labs and industrial processes.
Making 'green hydrogen' isn't the hard part of the hydrogen energy cycle. 'White' hydrogen may not even be better than 'green hydrogen' on the overall energy cycle when you take into account the costs of development and production infrastructure including purification, and even more so, the storage and transport of the hydrogen to where it will be used (especially if beyond local).

How we chanced upon what may be the world’s largest white hydrogen deposit (The Conversation 2023.09.07)

Largest flow of natural hydrogen gas ever found measured in Albanian chromium mine (Bulqizë )

The hunt for ‘holy grail’ of clean energy buried beneath the ground (The Independent 2023.11.22)
Note in this article that they were drilling for water when the discover the hydrogen, a worker was badly burned in making the discovery of the hydrogen, and the sampled gas has impurities.

This quote appears in the above article:
"Dr Geoffrey Ellis, a geologist with the US Geological Survey [USGS] in Colorado, offered a theory. Hydrogen doesn’t exist in the same places as oil and gas and because it is a diffusive and reactive, it was thought it couldn’t accumulate in large amounts." I subscribed to that thinking.
I still have concerns that once we poke holes in the Earth's crust to harvest this 'white' hydrogen, we will end up venting it into the planet's atmosphere via the pincushion effect.

For those that are 'wildcatting' hydrogen wells, I wish them success in using another fossil energy source (albeit very low carbon), including safe handling and not experiencing a 'gusher' release into the atmosphere. In particular, if Mali can harness this as an opportunity to improve life for its residents, and not create a new version of the 'resource curse', that feels like a worthy endeavour.

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