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Unlimited H2 underground?

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Curious article I could not resist sharing. nathan

Huge hydrogen stores found below Earth's crust
Discovery suggests near limitless supply of clean fuel
Robert Matthews Vancouver Sun
Monday, April 15, 2002

LONDON -- Scientists have discovered vast quantities of hydrogen gas, widely regarded as the most promising alternative to today's dwindling stocks of fossil fuels, lying beneath the Earth's crust.

The discovery has stunned energy experts, who believe that it could provide virtually limitless supplies of clean fuel for cars, homes and industry.

Governments across the world are urgently seeking ways of switching from conventional energy sources such as coal, gas and nuclear power to cleaner, safer alternatives.

Energy specialists estimate that oil production will start to decline within the next 10 to 15 years, as the economically viable reserves start to run out.

Hydrogen gas has been hailed as the ultimate clean fuel, as it produces only water when burned. Until now, however, moves to switch to a "hydrogen economy" have been dogged by the cost of making the gas. The two most common ways -- extraction from natural gas and sea water -- are expensive and create environmental problems.

Now scientists at the American space agency Nasa have found that the Earth's crust is a vast natural reservoir of hydrogen which has become trapped in ancient rocks.

The team made its discovery while trying to explain how bacteria live many miles below the Earth's surface. Such bugs have no access to sunlight, forcing them to rely on another source of energy for life. Scientists suspected that hydrogen was the source.

According to Professor Friedemann Freund and colleagues at Nasa's Ames Research Center in California, the gas is produced when water molecules trapped inside molten rock break down to release hydrogen.

"In the top 20 kilometres of the Earth's crust, the conditions are right to produce a nearly inexhaustible supply of hydrogen," said Professor Freund.

Studies by the team of common rock types such as granite and olivine have revealed extraordinarily high levels of trapped hydrogen. Professor Freund said that his team had "tantalizing evidence" that as much as 1,000 litres of hydrogen may be trapped in each cubic metre of rock.

Although formidable engineering problems remain to be overcome in abstracting the gas, the sheer volume of the Earth's crust means that such a high concentration would solve the world's energy problems.

"Everyone thinks of gas and oil as the main sources, and it's very difficult to get anyone to take alternatives seriously," said Dr. David Elliott, the professor of technology policy at the Open University in London. "The possibility of vast reserves of hydrogen in the Earth's crust could change that mindset."

The low yield of energy from burning hydrogen compared to gas, however, means that vast quantities of rock would have to be mined.

Professor Freund believes that the extraction and crushing of rock to extract the trapped hydrogen is likely to be prohibitively expensive. The reaction which creates the gas takes place at depths far below those involved in oil extraction, which are typically about two miles down.

The most promising source of the hydrogen may be geological "traps" similar to those now drilled for natural gas. Professor Freund said: "One of these natural hydrogen fields is already known to exist in North America, and extends from Canada to Kansas."
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I read that article yesterday also. I would like to observe that the best way to produce H2 is via solar panels and wind generators. Yes there would be pockets of mineable H2, but using the sun in a more direct method (via solar/wind/wave) is the easiest and least environmentally damaging way to produce the H2. There is another article out today mentioning that England just approved a 75 megawatt offshore windfarm for the North Sea. Lots of wind, lots of power. They are trying to be I think 10-20% alternative energy supplies within the next 10 years.

At least some countries are responsible.

Yep, digging up "hydrogen ore" and somehow extracting the H2 is not a very earth-friendly process. It does not sound very renewable either.

Distribution infrastructure is the point. Fuel cell-powered home climate control is feasible now if the infrastructure existed. Unlikely US would develop infrastructure for renewable resources. But if oil companies extracted H2 and pushed the infrastructure to reality then it would open the door for renewables.

BTW H2 is easy to make. Oil not so easy. The latter is a feedstock for a myriad of products. We mostly burn it. The former has few applications other than burning. Reality for now is that one is gonna be pumped out of the ground.

Points are well taken in a perfect world.

cheers, nathan
re Infrastructure:

That's a very good point. There are lots of compromises to be made in order to improve pollution and reduce the use of a non-renewable resource.

My current favorite compromise is a fuel cells that use a former to convert some other fuel that can use the current infrastructure into H2. Ethanol is one possibility. I suppose that the current infrastructure would need some beefing up (I think rubber does not like pure ethanol) but at least it is a liquid at reasonable temperatures and pressures.

A great quote I recently heard on Oil - (I wish I could remember the author - sorry):

"Oil is far to valuable to simply burn!"

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