A week after announcing that it had detected “significant concentrations” of natural hydrogen at its first exploration well, Australian company Gold Hydrogen has unveiled plans to fast-track what would be the world’s first natural H2 pilot project.

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Gold Hydrogen — which is hoping to be the first business in the world to extract and sell naturally occurring hydrogen — says it has signed two separate memoranda of understanding (MoUs) with Malaysian engineer Wasco Energy and Spanish company H2Site “to enable the fast-tracking of a proof-of-concept hydrogen pilot plant”.

The “concept”, Gold Hydrogen explains in a statement to the ASX exchange, is “that if natural hydrogen can be produced from the subsurface as part of a raw gas stream, then that raw gas can be processed at surface to yield a high purity hydrogen gas which can be used as an energy source”.

H2Site manufactures “integrated membrane reactor units” with no moving parts that separate and purify hydrogen from a blended gas stream — and was initially designed to extract or “unblend” H2 that had been injected into fossil-gas networks.

The agreements are subject to the results of Gold Hydrogen’s maiden drilling campaign, which has so far resulted in the detection of 73.3% hydrogen in gases emerging from its first exploration well, Ramsay 1, on the Yorke peninsula in South Australia.

A second well about 500 metres away, Ramsay 2, is to be drilled in the coming weeks to help determine the volumes of H2 present under the ground.

“The MoUs outline how the company will work with Wasco Energy and H2Site to review the suitability of current hydrogen purification systems to facilitate a saleable hydrogen product to be compressed on site,” said Gold Hydrogen.

“As a proof-of-concept, the compressed hydrogen could then be sold into the local market or used for power generation (eg, via a hydrogen fuel cell). This would represent an important step in the process of enabling the full potential of the Ramsay area to be evaluated from a commercial perspective, and would also create the first natural hydrogen pilot plant in Australia.”

Key natural hydrogen production processes, environments and locations

There are six known ways in which hydrogen is produced naturally:

Serpentinisation

In which the mineral olivine located in mid-ocean ridges or ophiolites (a geological formation where sections of the Earth’s mantle rise above sea level) is weathered to form hydrogen-rich fluids. This has been seen in the Semail ophiolite, in the Hajar Mountains of Oman. Under pressure and high temperatures, water can react with these iron-rich rocks to produce H2.

Radiolysis of water

Radioactive elements in the Earth’s crust — for example in crystalline basement rocks with high content of uranium, thorium or potassium — decompose water molecules trapped in causing a hydrogen pocket, as happened in South Australia.

Deep degassing

In which “primary” hydrogen (a single hydrogen atom attached to a single carbon atom) escapes from deep within the Earth’s crust. This has been seen in Nebraska, in the US.

Iron reduction and sulphur oxidation

Ferric iron in a black smoker (a subsea hydrothermal vent formed from iron sulphide deposits) is reduced to ferrous iron and hydrogen sulphides.

Thermal decomposition of organic matter

In which ammonium compounds located in deep sendiments decompose under high temperatures to form hydrogen and nitrogen, for example in hydrogen-nitrogen gas seeps in Oman.

Biological activity

Hydrogen is produced by microbes living in the Earth’s crusts, usually co-existing with hydrogen-consuming microbes and found via sediment or aquifers. This has been observed in the coal beds of the Powder River Basin in Montana, US.

Source: Rystad Energy