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What is gold hydrogen?
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Blog...What is gold hydrogen?

What is gold hydrogen?

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In this article, we’ll explore what gold hydrogen is, how it’s extracted, and the role it could play in promoting sustainable energy solutions.
Business
2024-04-23T00:00:00.000Z
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Gold hydrogen, a naturally occurring form of hydrogen, is emerging as a game-changer in the pursuit of cleaner and more sustainable energy sources. Unlike other types of hydrogen such as green, blue, and grey hydrogen, gold hydrogen is extracted directly from underground sources where it forms naturally. This production method sets it apart by minimising environmental impact and harnessing the untapped potential of our planet's natural resources. In this article, we’ll explore what gold hydrogen is, how it is extracted, and whether it can truly offer a sustainable solution for the energy sector.

👉 In this article we’ll explore what gold hydrogen is, how it’s extracted, and the role it could play in promoting sustainable energy solutions.

What is gold hydrogen?

Gold hydrogen, sometimes referred to as white, geological, or natural hydrogen, is a naturally occurring hydrogen gas that is sourced directly from the Earth, rather than produced through industrial processes. This form of hydrogen is found in underground reservoirs (much like oil and gas) and is created by natural geological processes. Renewed interest in this natural resource has opened up new possibilities for tapping into clean energy resources that could significantly reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.

Gold hydrogen is different from other types of hydrogen (green, blue, grey, and pink hydrogen) because it is not produced by splitting water molecules or reforming natural gas. Instead, it is extracted from subsurface deposits where it has accumulated naturally. These deposits are often found alongside other geological materials, making them accessible using existing drilling technologies similar to those used in the oil and gas industry.

💡 The formation of gold hydrogen stems from the interaction of water with mineral-rich rocks under high pressure and temperature conditions. This process can also be influenced by natural radioactivity, which facilitates the splitting of water molecules to release hydrogen. The hydrogen gas then migrates and accumulates in porous rocks or other geological formations, resulting in concentrated deposits.

The benefits of gold hydrogen

One of the key advantages of gold hydrogen is its minimal environmental impact. Since it requires no combustion or chemical processing to produce, it emits no CO2 or pollutants when extracted. This makes it a highly attractive option for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and combating climate change

Economically, gold hydrogen could also potentially be extracted at lower costs than other types of hydrogen, especially as technologies and methods for its extraction improve. This cost-effectiveness, combined with its low environmental footprint, positions gold hydrogen as a potentially transformative energy source for various sectors, including transportation, power generation, and heavy industry.

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How does gold hydrogen compare to other types of hydrogen?

Gold hydrogen stands out from other hydrogen fuels due to its natural occurrence and extraction methods, which contrast significantly with the production techniques used for other types of hydrogen:

Green hydrogen

Green hydrogen is produced through the electrolysis of water using electricity generated from renewable sources, such as wind or solar power. While green hydrogen is celebrated for its zero-emission profile during production, it requires significant energy input and infrastructure, which can be costly and resource-intensive. Gold hydrogen, on the other hand, is extracted directly from natural reserves, bypassing the need for energy-intensive electrolysis, and potentially reducing overall production costs and environmental impacts.

Blue hydrogen

Blue hydrogen is produced from natural gas through processes like steam methane reforming or autothermal reforming, where the resulting carbon emissions are captured and stored. This approach aims to reduce the environmental impact typically associated with hydrogen production. However, it still relies on fossil fuels and involves significant infrastructure and energy to manage carbon capture and storage (CCS) effectively.

Grey hydrogen

Grey hydrogen is also produced from natural gas using methods similar to those for blue hydrogen, such as steam methane reforming. The key difference is that in grey hydrogen production, the carbon emissions are not captured but released into the atmosphere, making it less environmentally sustainable. Grey hydrogen currently dominates the market but has a significant carbon footprint due to the unabated release of CO2.

Pink hydrogen

Pink hydrogen is generated through the electrolysis of water using nuclear power. Similar to green hydrogen, pink hydrogen's production is energy-intensive and depends on the availability and development of nuclear infrastructure, which can have its own environmental and safety concerns. 

Gold hydrogen

The extraction of gold hydrogen doesn’t require new energy for its production, which sets it apart from all other hydrogen types. This not only means lower operational costs but also a smaller ecological footprint, as the process reduces the need for large-scale industrial activities typically associated with other hydrogen productions. Furthermore, the use of existing oil and gas infrastructure for extraction can facilitate a faster and more efficient transition to hydrogen energy, repurposing old technologies for new, sustainable purposes.

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When was gold hydrogen discovered?

Geologists have long known that hydrogen can be produced underground through natural processes. Yet, despite this knowledge, natural hydrogen extraction wasn’t pursued commercially due to the belief that such deposits were small and rare.

This perception began to change as studies hinted at the presence of more substantial hydrogen deposits under the earth’s surface. However, it wasn't until the 21st century that a more in-depth exploration of these resources began, driven by advances in geological surveying technologies and a growing interest in alternative energy sources.

In recent years researchers have identified more sizeable pockets of natural hydrogen gas. In October 2023, for example, researchers at the French National Centre of Scientific Research uncovered a massive reservoir of natural hydrogen in northeastern France's Lorraine coal basin. This reservoir, which could contain up to 250 million tonnes of hydrogen, demonstrates the potential for substantial hydrogen deposits, comparable in energy capacity to major oil fields like the UK’s Clair field (its largest oil field).

Further discoveries have followed in regions like Spain, Mali, Namibia, Brazil, and the United States, rapidly expanding the map of potential gold hydrogen sites. These findings challenge previous assumptions and have sparked a renewed interest in the feasibility of extracting natural hydrogen on a larger scale.

A note on the role of geology and technology

Geologists play an important role in identifying potential sites for gold hydrogen extraction. The process involves detecting areas with the right geological conditions, such as the presence of iron-rich rocks or radioactive minerals capable of producing hydrogen. Modern geological surveys and technologies enable researchers to pinpoint these areas with greater accuracy, increasing the likelihood of successful extraction.

However, challenges remain in harnessing gold hydrogen. The extraction of this resource requires sophisticated technology and infrastructure, which are still under development. Moreover, the economic viability of extracting hydrogen from these natural reserves depends on the concentration of hydrogen, the depth at which it is found, and the proximity to markets where it can be used.

How is gold hydrogen extracted?

The process of extracting gold hydrogen from natural underground deposits is distinct from other types of hydrogen production, mainly due to its less invasive and more environmentally friendly methods. Here’s a breakdown of the steps involved:

Drilling

The first step in extracting gold hydrogen is drilling wells into identified hydrogen-rich formations. This involves using precision drilling techniques to access the subsurface layers where hydrogen accumulates. The drilling process for gold hydrogen is similar to that used in the oil and gas industry but is typically less complex because gold hydrogen deposits are usually found under less pressure and are less volatile than oil or natural gas.

No need for well-stimulation

Unlike the extraction of natural gas or oil, gold hydrogen doesn’t usually require well-stimulation techniques such as hydraulic fracturing. Gold hydrogen deposits can often be accessed without the need to fracture the rock formations, which simplifies the extraction process and minimises environmental risks. This lack of need for hydraulic fracturing reduces the potential for water contamination and geological disturbances, which are common concerns in fossil fuel extraction.

Collection and purification

Once the gold hydrogen is accessed through drilling, it must be collected and purified. This stage is crucial to ensure the hydrogen is of high enough quality for commercial use. The collection process involves capturing the hydrogen gas as it is released from the underground formations. The hydrogen then undergoes purification processes to remove any impurities or gases that may have been present in the deposit or that were released during the drilling process. The goal is to produce pure hydrogen that meets specific purity standards for various applications, such as fuel cells or industrial use.

Challenges in extraction

Despite these advantages, the extraction of gold hydrogen is not without challenges. Common issues include:

  • Identifying viable sources - Locating underground hydrogen deposits requires sophisticated geological surveys and technologies. As gold hydrogen is a relatively new area of exploration, developing reliable methods for identifying viable sources is ongoing.
  • Regulatory and safety considerations - Hydrogen is highly flammable, and extracting it safely requires strict safety and regulatory standards.
  • Economic viability - While potentially cheaper than other types of hydrogen production, the economic viability of extracting gold hydrogen depends on the concentration of hydrogen in natural deposits and the proximity to markets that can utilise it.
The extraction of gold hydrogen is promising but technologically demanding. As research continues and technology advances, the processes for safely and efficiently accessing this clean energy resource will likely become more refined and economically viable. This development has the potential to advance the transition towards a more sustainable and carbon-neutral energy future.
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What can gold hydrogen be used for?

Gold hydrogen, with its environmentally friendly extraction process, presents potential opportunities across various sectors, including: 

Clean energy generation

Gold hydrogen could be used to generate clean electricity. In fuel cells, gold hydrogen has the potential to produce electricity without combustion, emitting only water vapour as a byproduct. This feature makes it an excellent option for power generation in regions aiming to reduce air pollution and carbon emissions. Moreover, it could be used to provide a reliable power supply in remote or off-grid areas, supporting decentralised energy systems.

Transportation fuel

There is potential for gold hydrogen to revolutionise the transportation sector, especially for heavy-duty and long-haul vehicles where electric batteries may not be practical. Hydrogen fuel cells could power buses, trucks, trains, and even ships, reducing reliance on diesel and other fossil fuels. This application could significantly lower the carbon footprint of the transportation sector.

Industrial processes

In industries requiring high-grade heat or high energy demands, such as steel, cement, and chemical manufacturing, gold hydrogen could serve as a reducing agent or be burned directly to provide heat, potentially replacing coal and natural gas. This application is critical for carbon-intensive industries that are struggling to decarbonise their operations and comply with increasingly strict environmental regulations.

Decarbonising the gas grid

As a transitional solution, gold hydrogen could be mixed with natural gas and supplied through existing gas infrastructure, gradually increasing the proportion of hydrogen to achieve lower emissions from residential and commercial heating systems. Known as ‘hydrogen-enriched natural gas’, this blend could help transition towards a fully hydrogen-powered system.

What are the pros and cons of gold hydrogen?

Gold hydrogen is hailed as a promising solution for advancing toward a sustainable and low-carbon future, but like any energy source, it comes with its own set of advantages and challenges. In this section, we’ll examine the various advantages and disadvantages of this potential energy source. 

Pros of gold hydrogen

  • Environmental benefits - Gold hydrogen is extracted from natural deposits and does not require the burning of fossil fuels, resulting in significantly lower carbon emissions.
  • Use of existing infrastructure - The technology and processes needed for extracting gold hydrogen are similar to those used in the oil and gas industries. This allows for the repurposing of existing infrastructure and expertise, which can accelerate the deployment of gold hydrogen technologies and reduce initial capital costs.
  • Energy security - By providing an additional source of clean energy, gold hydrogen can help diversify energy supplies and reduce dependence on imported fuels, enhancing national energy security.
  • Economic opportunities - The exploration and development of gold hydrogen resources can create new jobs and stimulate economic activities. This can bring substantial economic benefits, especially to areas with declining fossil fuel industries.

Cons of gold hydrogen

  • Environmental impacts - Despite its benefits, the extraction of gold hydrogen could still pose environmental risks. These include potential disturbances to ecosystems from drilling activities, especially if not managed responsibly. There is also the risk of methane or other gases being released during the extraction process, which could negate some of the climate benefits.
  • Uncertainty of resources - While significant deposits of gold hydrogen have been identified, the overall global distribution and the feasibility of extracting these resources at scale remains uncertain. Geologists need to conduct more extensive research to understand how and where hydrogen gas forms and assess the viability of these deposits for large-scale use.
  • Risk of delaying other solutions - There is a concern that focusing on gold hydrogen might delay or detract from investments in other renewable energy technologies, such as solar or wind. Critics argue that it could become an excuse to slow down the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. 
  • Potential for unintended consequences - The exploration for gold hydrogen might inadvertently lead to the discovery of new fossil fuel deposits. If not managed carefully, this could lead to increased fossil fuel extraction, contradicting the original goals of reducing carbon emissions.
  • Regulatory and technical challenges - Safe extraction and transport of hydrogen require stringent regulatory oversight and advanced technologies to prevent leaks and ensure safety - especially since hydrogen is highly flammable. Developing these regulations and technologies will take time and resources.
  • Economic viability - While potentially less expensive than other forms of hydrogen, the economic viability of extracting gold hydrogen depends heavily on the concentration and accessibility of deposits. The costs associated with exploration, drilling, and establishing safe extraction methods may prove challenging.

💡 Gold hydrogen presents an interesting option for expanding the world's renewable energy portfolio, offering significant environmental and economic benefits. However, its success will depend on overcoming scientific, technical, regulatory, and environmental challenges. As research progresses, the true potential of gold hydrogen will become clearer, helping to determine whether it can serve as a major player in the transition to a sustainable energy future or if it will remain a niche solution within the broader energy landscape. Only time and further investigation will reveal how significant a role gold hydrogen can play in our clean energy future.

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What about Greenly?

At Greenly we can help you to assess your company’s carbon footprint, and then give you the tools you need to cut down on emissions. Why not request a free demo with one of our experts - no obligation or commitment required. 

If reading this article has inspired you to consider your company’s own carbon footprint, Greenly can help. Learn more about Greenly’s carbon management platform here.

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