Mimicking natural hydrogen | 'Geologic H2 can be artificially produced underground by stimulating iron-rich rock'




US senators told that Bill Gates-backed start-up is already ‘doing it today in our lab’


It is technically possible to artificially produce geologic hydrogen underground by stimulating iron-rich rock, mimicking one of the processes in which natural H2 is formed, the CEO of a Bill Gates-backed start-up told US senators on Wednesday.


Pete Johnson, the boss of US natural-hydrogen company Koloma, told the Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources that his research team had already proved that it could be done.


“This works,” he said. “We’re doing it today in our lab.”


But Johnson was clear that process of artificially stimulating iron ore to produce hydrogen might not be commercially viable.


“The big question is: Can you produce enough gas quickly enough out of a well for the economics to work? The science of it is real. It’ll probably take five to seven years for us to really know if that works.”


At the start of this month, Koloma was awarded $900,000 from the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E) to explore ways to produce “geologic hydrogen through stimulated mineralogical processes” — one of ten recipients to receive grants of up to $1.62m for research into this matter.


Johnson did admit, however, that “we’re pretty far away from conceptualising what that [stimulated] system would look like”.


ARPA-E director Dr Evelyn Wang told the hearing on natural hydrogen that the underground rock stimulation could be as simple as “introducing high-pressure steam into the subsurface with these iron-rich rocks”, which she later confirmed could include commercial iron ore.


“There’s exploration to be done in terms of the research to understand what kinds of rocks will actually produce at the rates that we want — high rates of production of hydrogen from that chemical reaction [known as serpentinisation, see panel below] that occurs with these types of iron-rich rock formations,” she said.


“And that could be an avenue for us to pursue moving forward, in addition to the natural hydrogen that is potentially all around the world.”


Wang had previously told the hearing in her opening statement: “While simply extracting the current supply of naturally accumulating hydrogen, in and of itself, can enhance the US energy economy, ARPA-E is committing research support to explore a potentially disruptive step in the process.


“Through understanding how we can artificially stimulate these deposits, there is a theoretical potential to produce enough clean hydrogen to impact US energy demand.”


She explained that ARPA-E had handed out almost $13m of grants in early February to identify the technologies that could perform this artificial production of geologic hydrogen and develop “an understanding of controlling these hydrogen-producing geochemical reactions”.


Wang also pointed that a further $7.2m had also been handed out by ARPA-E in early February for “technologies relevant to the management and extraction of hydrogen from geologic reservoirs, this includes how we can contain and transport this source of energy from the Earth’s subsurface, and mitigate risks associated with these efforts”.


To read Hydrogen Insight’s separate article about what the committee heard about natural hydrogen, click here.





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