State-owned Korea National Oil Corporation (KNOC) says it may have found naturally occurring hydrogen underground at five locations across South Korea.

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KNOC revealed this week that has been searching for natural H2 in the country since last year, measuring gases emerging from different soils, and applied for a patent for its new hydrogen-detecting probe earlier this week.

Initial research seems to have pinpointed the presence of hydrogen in the soil at the five undisclosed locations, and the company is now carrying out studies to confirm and precisely analyse what lies under the surface.

This ground survey work will utilise its experience in geology, geophysics and drilling, as well as its own patented hydrogen exploration and monitoring technology, KNOC says.

“If the corporation leads basic research through active collaboration with industry, academia, and research, and utilises the corporation's oil and gas exploration/development technology, discovering hydrogen underground is no longer a dream in Korea,” said Seo Jeong-gyu, head of KNOC’s Global Technology Centre.

“It will be a future new growth engine that can contribute to domestic energy security, creation of new businesses, and achievement of the national carbon neutrality goal through the discovery of clean energy sources.”

South Korea is aiming for carbon neutrality by 2050 and is relying on imported green hydrogen for much of its decarbonisation, despite the added expense. Sourcing natural H2 in the country would not only be a breakthrough for its “hydrogen economy” plans, but could also massively reduce the cost of its energy transition.

Several companies are searching for commercially exploitable natural hydrogen in the US, Australia and parts of Africa, but have yet to find any. The hydrogen seeping from soils around the world — sometimes visible in the form of “fairy circles” — are often mixed with other gases, whose presence makes the H2 difficult to commercially exploit.

Hydrogen Insight has not been able to find evidence that naturally occurring H2 has ever been discovered in South Korea.

For more information about natural hydrogen and its prospects for commercialisation, click here.