White hydrogen: characteristics of this energy vector

3 May, 2024

White hydrogen, also referred to as natural, golden, or geological hydrogen, is a gas generated within the Earth’s crust. In contrast to green, yellow, pink, or blue hydrogen, which are produced through various transformation processes, white hydrogen forms naturally as a result of diverse chemical and geological phenomena. Water filtration between tectonic plates and the decomposition of certain iron-rich underground sediments are two processes that naturally produce white hydrogen.

Its capacity to form without the need for industrial manufacturing, along with the inherent characteristic of hydrogen to not emit CO2 when used as an energy vector, renders white hydrogen a completely emission-free gas. Furthermore, one of its key attributes is the consistent generation of white hydrogen at locations that fulfil the requisite conditions.

However, further research is needed to address various technical issues associated with this type of hydrogen. These issues are primarily concerned with obtaining more accurate estimates of the amounts present in the subsoil, determining the feasibility of extraction across the different contexts where it occurs, and assessing the technical and economic efficiency of integrating it into the energy market.

Is there white hydrogen in Spain?

In the 1960s, the National Oil Company of Aragon (Empresa Nacional de Petróleos de Aragón) was exploring for crude oil in the Monzón area, Huesca, but instead discovered indications of white hydrogen at a depth of more than three kilometres. At that time, the discovery was deemed merely an interesting find—since hydrogen typically occurs combined with other elements—and operations at the site were concluded.

The Pyrenees mountain range is estimated to have the potential to yield an additional five to ten million tons of white hydrogen

Over five decades later, in 2022, a public-private partnership re initiated exploration efforts at the site, where they detected high concentration levels of natural hydrogen. Should the field become operational, it is estimated that approximately 1.1 million tonnes of white hydrogen could be extracted.

Furthermore, projections suggest the presence of additional similar formations throughout the Pyrenees mountain range, which could yield an extra five to ten million tons of hydrogen.

What white hydrogen projects are there around the world?

Globally, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) estimates up to five trillion tons of natural hydrogen within the depths of our planet. Although a significant portion of these reserves might be inaccessible, tapping into even several of these sources could satisfy the projected demand for hundreds of years. If achieved, this would represent a monumental advance in combating descarbonisation and climate change.

Currently, there is just one white hydrogen field being exploited in the world. It is a well in Mali, situated in the locality of Bourakébougou. This well was accidentally discovered in the late 1980s during subsurface drilling for water. Moreover, various research projects are ongoing in countries including France, Albania, and the United States.

The French government, for example, has approved a mining exploration project for hydrogen, helium, and related substances in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques region, named “Sauve Terre H2”. This initiative will enable the analysis of an area of approximately 225 km² within that region.

Currently, there is only one active white hydrogen field globally: a well in Mali

Also, in France, in the Lorraine region, a significant deposit of natural hydrogen was inadvertently discovered by a team from the Georesources Laboratory at the University of Lorraine (CNRS) while they were assessing methane levels in the ground.

The CNRS estimates that this deposit may contain about 46 million tons of natural hydrogen,  an amount exceeding half of the global annual production of grey hydrogen.

Likewise, in the Bulqizë chromite mine, located in an Albanian municipality, a potential for producing over 200 tons of white hydrogen annually has been identified. In Nebraska (USA) , the country’s first white hydrogen well has already been drilled. Meanwhile, in places like Australia, the government has issued numerous licenses for the exploitation of this type of hydrogen. It is thought that the southern region of Australia may hold enough white hydrogen to power Adelaide, the country’s fifth-largest city, for 40 years.