Australian island attracts fuel prospectors searching for pot of ‘gold’ hydrogen


On Kangaroo Island off the coast of Adelaide, a band of former fuel explorers consider they’re on the verge of discovering the holy grail of low-cost, clear power: naturally occurring “gold” hydrogen.

Luke Titus, a geologist from the fuel and minerals sectors and director of start-up Gold Hydrogen, first had the concept whereas trying to find gold within the Brazilian jungle. There, he stumbled throughout “fairy circles” — naked patches within the vegetation the place hydrogen seeps out of the bottom.

He started researching the geology of pure hydrogen and found that elements of South Australia had been promising exploration websites due to a mixture of iron-rich rocks and salty water, which give rise to a chemical response that produces hydrogen. That hydrogen, the literature advised, is then trapped beneath a layer of salty carbonate rock, creating a big pure reservoir of the fuel.

“It has optimum geological situations for pure formation of hydrogen fuel,” stated Titus. “It’s nearly like a purple unicorn.”

Titus trawled by means of authorities archives and located a report that confirmed oil prospectors within the Nineteen Thirties had unintentionally found wells of virtually pure pure hydrogen in South Australia when drilling for oil.

Nearly a century later, with the world making an attempt to wean itself off fossil fuels, the energy-rich fuel is rising as a promising gasoline of the long run, with pure wells notably attractive.

Not like the extra talked-about “inexperienced” and “blue” hydrogen, which use power and capital-intensive processes to extract hydrogen from water or pure fuel, pure or “gold” hydrogen wants little processing and is probably far cheaper and extra energy-efficient to provide.

“We’re very assured that the hydrogen is there from present discoveries,” stated Neil McDonald, Titus’s enterprise accomplice and director of Gold Hydrogen, the primary prospector to safe a allow from the South Australian state authorities to discover the world.

He estimates the 9,000 sq km exploration areas, which embody the Yorke Peninsula in addition to Kangaroo Island, maintain 1.3bn kg of hydrogen, which he stated was sufficient to “energy 1,000,000 houses for 40 years”.

Others have jumped on the bandwagon, together with a staff of former executives from Woodside. Peter Coleman, chief government till final 12 months of Australia’s greatest fuel producer, joined as chair of hydrogen exploration start-up H2EX final month.

Mark Hanna, chief government of H2EX and in addition a former Woodside government, stated he first heard about pure hydrogen two years in the past from contacts in France, the place firms reminiscent of 45-8 Vitality are trying to find the fuel. This led him to learn concerning the world’s solely productive pure hydrogen discipline in Mali.

The west African nation’s hydrogen reserve was found unintentionally in 2015 by teams on the lookout for underground water. Canadian group Hydroma connected a Toyota gasoline cell — which generates electrical energy from hydrogen — to the highest of the properly and put in a transmission line. The properly now provides electrical energy to the village of Bourakébougou.

Hanna stated there was vital uncertainty concerning the viability of pure hydrogen and admitted his enterprise may come to nothing. However he was hopeful, citing the “hydritic” concept proposed by some scientists: that there’s sufficient pure hydrogen within the earth’s core and mantle to produce all of humanity’s power wants indefinitely.

“In the event you consider the hydritic concept and the hydrogen is coming from deeper than the earth’s crust, you’ll have to drill deeper,” he stated, calling this “the holy grail” of pure hydrogen exploration.

H2EX has raised sufficient capital to conduct preliminary exploration. If that’s profitable, Hanna says the group must increase about A$20mn ($14mn) to start out drilling “two or three wells” in essentially the most promising areas. Assuming it’s a success, critical manufacturing may then start. However he stated that was a number of years away.

Inexperienced hydrogen, made by passing demineralised water by means of a renewably powered electrolyser, prices roughly $5 per kg to provide. To be aggressive with fossil fuels, the Australian authorities stated that determine wanted to fall to lower than A$2 — one thing advisory agency PwC has stated is not going to occur earlier than 2040.

Hanna hopes to provide pure hydrogen for between 50 cents and $1.50. In a world the place inexperienced hydrogen manufacturing prices set the value benchmark, pure hydrogen may have an enormous benefit.

Many are sceptical. Scott Hamilton, senior adviser at inexperienced hydrogen business affiliation Hydrogen Australia, stated that whereas pure hydrogen could have potential, it will must be scaled up throughout the subsequent decade.

“The large drop in photo voltaic and wind energy means making hydrogen from electrolysis will likely be dominant in Australia and world wide,” he stated.

Nonetheless, critical gamers are taking discover of pure hydrogen. US oilfield providers group Schlumberger is working with Gold Hydrogen on its South Australia venture, and McDonald stated oil producers had expressed curiosity in what he’s doing.

In the meantime, the CSIRO, the Australian authorities’s scientific analysis physique, is trying into potential pure hydrogen reserves in South Australia.

Graeme Bethune, chief government of fuel business analysis group EnergyQuest, stated the involvement of former oil and fuel folks would possibly instil mistrust, however that was not a legitimate argument in opposition to it.

Whereas “it’s actually early days, and these wells had been drilled nearly 100 years in the past”, he stated, if South Australian pure hydrogen reserves met expectations “it may very well be fairly low-cost”.

This text has been amended to mirror that Luke Titus is the director of Gold Hydrogen.

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