HyNAT: our Vision & Mission
In the 20th century the world’s economy grew by a factor of 20, with the population increasing four-fold, and half of it now living in cities. This five-fold increase of per capita GDP was made possible by abundant supplies of coal, oil and gas. Easily available energy is a necessary (but not sufficient) condition for economic growth, innovation and increasing standards of living.
However, the reliance on fossil fuels in the 20th century also had severe unintended consequences: climate change due to carbon emissions, and a very uneven distribution of wealth between emerging and developed countries due to the centralized nature of fossil-fuel economies.
The 21rst century faces the challenge of doubling the world’s increasingly urbanized population by 2100 in a sustainable manner. None of the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals can be met by our traditional fossil-fuel based economies that require expensive highly centralized production facilities that are very far from the urban centers and countries where energy is consumed.
Our planet needs a paradigm shift: abundant supplies of renewable green energy, produced economically in a decentralized manner, to ensure that economic value is created in a sustainable manner and remains on a local level. This is what the energy transition for the 21rst century must look like.
At HyNAT we are convinced that a hydrogen economy, based on the use of natural hydrogen, is an integral aspect of this paradigm shift.
HyNAT is part of the Aaqius group that has been innovating for over 15 years to successfully create disruptive low-CO2 businesses that sustain local ecosystems and local economies. And for over a decade Aaqius has developed key links in the hydrogen value chain: financing (AALPS), energy resources (natural hydrogen, HyNAT), products (fuel-cell powertrains, Aaqius), and services (energy & mobility as a service, STOR-H). We innovate globally and create sustainable value locally.
Natural hydrogen: the state-of-the art
At HyNAT we bring several decades of experience in the exploration and discovery of natural resources; and we have been early innovators in the field of natural hydrogen.
Three key facts drive our interest in natural hydrogen, it is cheap, ubiquitous… and renewable:
- We know that natural hydrogen seems to be much cheaper to produce than current methods (steam methane reforming, water electrolysis) with an estimated cost below 1 US $/kg.
- The technical and scientific knowledge of the natural hydrogen reservoir is limited, due to its recent discovery as a potential energy source. However, when looked for, undoubtedly, hydrogen is ubiquitous on the planet Earth (Zgonnik, 2020).
- Associated with several other key geological observations, it appears that natural hydrogen is renewable, i.e., has a generation timing compatible with human life (between 10 and 100 years).
Knowing where to look for natural hydrogen is essential. Some guidelines can be defined:
- Setting apart mid-oceanic ridge’s hydrogen plumes (Whelan and Craig, 1979), which are not considered as valuable because of their context (except perhaps in rare onshore occurrences as Iceland), large volumes of natural hydrogen have been recorded in ophiolites (remnants of oceanic crusts in mountain chains) and in geologically old continental areas. The latter appear today as the most promising natural settings in terms of accessibility, coupled to areas of local consumption. Moreover, their location in sedimentary rocks gives more opportunities to find reservoir rocks with decent porosity and permeability.
- A hydrogen geological system per se, includes a kitchen or a source of generation associated to various physico-chemical processes that are the focus of many developing theories (Sherwood-Lollar et al., 2007; Marcaillou et al., 2011; Zgonnik, 2020; Truche et al., 2020, Arrouvel and Prinzhofer, 2021). Furthermore, it is likely created at several kilometers below ground level, with yet unknown migration paths, possibly some associated with shallower transient accumulations (the most interesting part for our purpose). It ends with the evidence of important surface seeps (Larin et al., 2014; Prinzhofer et al., 2019; Moretti et al., 2020).
- The common geological understanding is that each of these elements, found naturally in continental areas, are linked to Neoproterozoic formations (550-1000 million years). From that observation it is straightforward to assume that very reducing conditions of the Earth’s atmosphere at that time allowed the formation of reduced sedimentary rocks, conducive for hydrogen generation and preservation. In fact, these rocks and geological formations are largely represented in extensive continental cratons of South and North America, Africa and Australia. Beyond the geological formation chronology, one of the first and most simple
guideline today for exploration are “fairy circles”, which depict ground level circular depressions of diameter ranging from 100m to 2 km and which are associated with significant hydrogen emissions in the order of 1 000 to 40 000 m3/day (Moretti et al., 2021). The hydrogen rich circular emanations are well identified and distinguished from other known circular depressions visible at the Earth surface (dolines, pingos, etc.). When the soil rheology allows the formation of such topological structures, they remain as key hydrogen indicators and mapping for natural hydrogen exploration.
- It appears also that geologically, two chemical elements seem mandatory for hydrogen geological generation: iron and sulfur. These two elements present the advantage to be abundant in the Earth crust, with chemical properties allowing various degrees of oxidation. As hydrogen gas is a highly reduced molecule, these various potential states of Redox conditions for iron and sulfur open various paths for hydrogen generation (Arrouvel and Prinzhofer, 2021) and may be studied through geochemical cycles of iron and sulfur.
Mali: a first proof-of-concept
One example of interest, Mali, located in the African continent, has been enlightening as a pioneer country to test the use of natural hydrogen to produce energy on a local scale. It may be considered as a key reference of an already developed industrial project for natural hydrogen exploitation and economic feasibility and serves as an example for other potential industrial scale projects.
Hydroma, the Malian company which is developing the Bourakébougou hydrogen field has drilled a total of 24 exploration wells in its exploitation block.
Different geological and geochemical studies have shown that natural hydrogen there has been accumulated in at least 5 stacked reservoirs, the shallowest at a depth of 100 meters and the deepest reservoir to be found at about 1400 meters (Prinzhofer et al., 2018).
One well reached the basement below the Neoproterozoic sediments at a depth of 1500m down to a depth of 1800m and encountered hydrogen in the crustal rocks, recording a probable deep generative source of this gas.
Natural hydrogen: a high impact…low CAPEX…game-changing investment
The large number of occurrences on Earth associated with possible local production without large investments is indeed a change of paradigm when discussing natural hydrogen in comparison with the oil and gas industry.
We may consider producing the easiest sweet spots for natural hydrogen, as no one has yet exploited this resource. We were in the same situation for oil in the 19th century. Today, the “easy oil” has been already produced, and exploration/production of hydrocarbons has become a large, complex and expensive business. The fact that naturel hydrogen seems to be present in almost every country, even in modest amounts, implies investments which do not require using the large Major energy companies. This allows to think about a new decentralized relation to our energy sources.
Indeed, in the past century, a centralized relationship to energy was the norm because of geological constraints and because coal and hydrocarbons are located in specific areas, and required heavy investments and present big industrial challenges. As it appears from our first experience with natural hydrogen, it represents a much more ubiquitous resource on Earth, needing much smaller structures of production and valuation, today associated with shallow wells.
The choice of hydrogen exploitation for distant markets or for more proximal ones may be considered separately from societal and economic constraints. The end-use markets are local
and varied, for example: mobility, local industrial plants eager in energy, ammonia factories, electricity generation transferred to smart grid systems, etc.
Exploration in continental areas has shown already very interesting indices of potential exploitation. The fact that the sweep spots occur in areas generally poorly equipped in energy resources may give a real opportunity of economic development in the 21st century for countries of South America and Africa among others.
Indeed, as said before, natural hydrogen may be converted locally into electricity carried through high voltage electric lines, or may be used for local mobility, for energy-demanding industrial plants (for example adjacent mining industries), not to mention ammoniac plants for local fertilizers. A successful exploration for natural hydrogen in various countries of Africa for example may change drastically the political future of this continent in the 21st century.
Another issue concerning continents like Africa or South America is the indispensable link between energy resources and metals needed for the new technologies of the energy transition. A lot of ore deposits exist in these continents, but their exploitation is still limited due to the lack of infrastructures, investments, and access to cheap and clean energy. This may change with the occurrence of natural hydrogen, allowing to access in the same areas the energy source and the raw materials. As iron and sulfur are generally concentrated around and in ore deposits, the association of natural hydrogen with existing or potential mining districts makes an interesting synergy between raw metal exploitation and clean energy need for mining production and ore treatment). We may conceive at that stage a real independence for social development.
Such projects nonetheless are structured one step at a time and help create local education infrastructures such as upper-level university training exchanges (Master level programs, doctorates, engineering careers) to support the required skilled resources.
Two concerns associated with Social Sciences should be considered urgently: Governmental national regulations of natural hydrogen exploration permits and production. For example, hydrogen permits and tax regulations, which have not been considered so far for natural hydrogen, except in rare countries. The second concern is the public information and acceptability of a new source of energy that carries historically a bad reputation (flammability, explosion risks etc.). This represents a drastic change, which should be faced and discussed openly.
At HyNAT we believe that natural hydrogen is not only a new business for energy companies committed to a clean, decarbonated and renewable source of energy, but also an opportunity:
- to reconsider the global economic and social equilibria,
- to favor developing countries,
- and to enable a diversified and decentralized relationship between people and energy.
This is a challenge that can be met if we focus our collective intelligence, and our best scientific minds, on understanding how natural hydrogen is generated within the Earth and on creating accurate exploration guidelines for finding it.
In addition, the legal boundaries must be drawn accordingly in terms of bid regulations and national fiscal policies associated with this new resource.
Natural hydrogen is a ubiquitous, economical, decarbonated, renewable source of energy. We believe, however, that its real value added is the positive local economic impact it will have on those countries that develop this amazing resource.
The Earth gave us coal, oil & gas for the 20th century; our planet is giving us natural hydrogen for the 21st century and beyond.
Arrouvel C. and Prinzhofer A. (2021): Genesis of natural hydrogen: new insights from thermodynamic simulations. Int. J. of Hydrogen Energy. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijhydene.2021.03.057
Larin N., Zgonnik V., Rodina S., Deville E., Prinzhofer A. and Larin V.N. (2014): Natural molecular hydrogen seepage associated with surficial, rounded depressions on the European craton in Russia. Natural Ressources Research, DOI: 10.1007/s11053-014-9257-5.
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