Could Natural Hydrogen Kill Green Hydrogen?

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Essay by Eric Worrall

h/t David S. – If you have never heard of natural hydrogen deposits before, you’re not alone. But discoveries of substantial underground gas fields which mostly contain almost pure hydrogen have the potential to completely upend efforts to develop a “green hydrogen” economy.

Natural hydrogen exploration ‘boom’ snaps up one third of South Australia

South Australia has found itself at the heart of a 21st-century gold rush, though this time for naturally occurring hydrogen. Since February 2021, 18 exploration licenses have been granted or applied for in the state by six different companies searching for natural hydrogen.


From pv magazine Australia

In a rapid escalation from zero activity in February last year, exploration companies are now scrambling to look for what they believe could be the cheapest, easiest way to get their hands on the much hyped “future fuel”: hydrogen.

In the last 12 months, six different companies have either been granted or applied for 18 Petroleum Exploration Licences across the state of South Australia, according to Australian energy consultancy EnergyQuest. Combined, the area under permit equates to around 570,000 square kilometres (km2) or 32% of the entire state, the consultancy has found, referring to the sudden influx as a “boom”.

Natural hydrogen

Until now, natural or native hydrogen has been largely overlooked – despite it being described as “widespread in nature” by natural hydrogen researcher Viacheslav Zgonnik in a 2020 paper. Natural hydrogen deposits form through chemical reactions underground, with Zgonnik saying the molecule has been detected at high concentrations, often as the major gas, in all types of geologic environments.

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The abstract of the 2020 paper;

The occurrence and geoscience of natural hydrogen: A comprehensive review

Viacheslav Zgonnik


Using an interdisciplinary approach, this paper reviews current knowledge in the field of natural hydrogen. For the first time, it combines perspectives on hydrogen from the literature of the former Eastern bloc with that of the West, including rare hardcopies and recent studies. Data are summarized and classified in three main sections: hydrogen as a free gas in different environments, as inclusions in various rock types, and as dissolved gas in ground water. This review conclusively demonstrates that molecular hydrogen is much more widespread in nature than was previously thought. Hydrogen has been detected at high concentrations, often as the major gas, in all types of geologic environment. A critical evaluation of all the proposed mechanisms regarding the origin of natural hydrogen shows that a deep-seated origin is potentially the most likely explanation for its abundance in nature. By combining available data, an estimate of 23 Tg/year for the total annual flow of hydrogen from geologic sources is proposed. This value is an order of magnitude greater than previous estimate but most likely still not large enough to account for recently discovered worldwide diffusive seepages. Hydrogen could play a critical role in mechanisms taking place in both the shallow and deep geospheres and it can influence a very wide range of natural phenomena. Hydrogen is an essential energy source for many microorganisms. Sampling for hydrogen can be a useful tool in studying natural environments, geologic mapping, monitoring of earthquakes, plotting fault traces and resource exploration. Hydrogen of geologic origin has the potential to become the renewable energy source of the future, with exploratory projects ongoing at the present time. The topic of natural hydrogen is therefore relevant from many different perspectives.

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Another paper which discusses natural hydrogen;

Natural hydrogen the fuel of the 21st century

Laurent Truche1* and Elena F. Bazarkina2,3

1 Université Grenoble Alpes, CNRS, ISTerre, F-38000 Grenoble, France 
2 Institut Néel, UPR 2940 CNRS – Université Grenoble Alpes, F-38000 Grenoble, France 
3 IGEM RAS, 119017 Moscow, Russia 

Corresponding author:


Much has been learned about natural hydrogen (H2) seepages and accumulation, but present knowledge of hydrogen behavior in the crust is so limited that it is not yet possible to consider exploitation of this resources. Hydrogen targeting requires a shift in the long-standing paradigms that drive oil and gas exploration. This paper describes the foundation of an integrated source-to-sink view of the hydrogen cycle, and propose preliminary practical guidelines for hydrogen exploration.

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This story is from February, but until David pointed it out, I had never heard of natural hydrogen, other than as an impurity in natural gas.

A word of caution, information about natural hydrogen is pretty sparse, so I have no validation of the claim natural hydrogen occurs in sufficient quantity in exploitable deposits, other than a handful of papers. It may prove to be the cold fusion of the zero carbon industry. But serious people seem to be taking it seriously.

Even the possibility of significant exploitable natural deposits of hydrogen poses a threat to attempts to build a renewable powered green hydrogen economy.

How will anyone obtain financing for spending billions installing solar panels and wind turbines, developing green water hydrolysis technology, if someone can potentially just poke a hole in the ground and obliterate their profit margin?

I still think hydrogen is way too dangerous to be used in consumer items like hydrogen powered automobiles.

But a zero carbon dispatchable hydrogen powered electricity turbine sitting on top of a large natural hydrogen deposit could pretty much wipe out the profitability of any wind or solar installation or battery backup facility, no matter how many subsidies the government hands out.

Even if the natural hydrogen deposits only last a decade or two, or are never developed into a commercial resource, the threat of businesses developing dispatchable natural hydrogen resources will undermine the business case of pretty much every other form of green energy, except hydroelectricity.

Update: h/t Nick Stokes – a CSIRO paper Hydrogen in Australian natural gas: occurrences, sources and resources suggests “The prediction and subsequent identification of subsurface H2 that can be exploited remains enigmatic and awaits robust exploration guidelines and targeted drilling for proof of concept.”

via Watts Up With That?

July 25, 2022