Natural hydrogen exploration and usage being examined by Brazil's national oil company Petrobras




The country already has confirmed geologic H2 resources near Rio de Janeiro


Brazilian state-owned oil firm Petrobras is investigating the exploration and usage of natural hydrogen, which could be an extremely low-cost and low-emissions route to producing clean H2.


“We will accelerate the levelling up of what is already known today about natural hydrogen, leverage the necessary research and reinforce our commitment, if it proves feasible, to use natural hydrogen in a sustainable way in Petrobras’ business,” the company’s president, Jean Paul Prates, said at a workshop on natural hydrogen, according to reporting by local energy news agency EPBR.


Petrobras consumes around 500,000 tonnes of grey H2 a year at its oil refineries and is also piloting green hydrogen production (see below).


Brazil already has a confirmed resource for naturally occurring hydrogen from a small geological fault in Maricá, a municipality just outside the city of Rio de Janeiro.


Maricá’s government and the Brazilian Hydrogen Association last May announced that H2 had been detected in extremely high concentrations in nine locations throughout the municipality following a six-month study.


However, the exact amount of hydrogen, and how much of it can be recovered, has not yet been confirmed.


High concentrations of hydrogen have also been found in the São Francisco Basin , in Minas Gerais state, to the north of Rio de Janeiro, according to research carried out in January 2022 by French utility Engie.


Petrobras geologist Igor Viegas told the workshop that the company has been studying natural hydrogen — also known as white or geologic H2 — since 2021 as part of an exploration of new business opportunities.


“From there, we started looking at different possibilities and, logically, geological hydrogen appeared as one of the main ones on our list. We understand that we are at a crucial moment in the world talking about new energies, and the need to decarbonise our operations and the production of geological hydrogen is an important component within this global strategic context.”


Exploring for natural hydrogen would require many of the same skills that the company's oil & gas exploration teams already have, added Julio Stica, general manager of Petrobras' exploration portfolio and business.


While natural hydrogen has seen accelerating interest, with 40 companies now assessing resources globally, no commercially extractable reserves have yet been proven anywhere in the world.


The only use of natural hydrogen is one small project in Mali, west Africa, where it is burned to produce power in a nearby village, although other gases such as methane are not separated ahead of combustion.


As such, it is unclear how much it would cost to extract pure hydrogen from the subsurface, although consultancy Rystad Energy estimates an extremely low cost of $1/kg.


Natural H2 could have an emissions intensity as low as 0.37kg of CO2-equivalent per kilo of H2, depending on how much methane is also present in a resource.


Beyond natural hydrogen, Petrobras has also today signed a non-binding memorandum of understanding with Japanese conglomerate Mitsui promising to explore a range of measures to reduce emissions, including clean H2 production.


Last month, the state oil company also announced it would spend R$90m ($17.9m) on a small electrolyser pilot, which would draw power from 2.5MW of solar PV to produce H2 for co-firing with natural gas.



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