Natural hydrogen addressed during the Hydrogen Days

natural hydrogen Isabelle Moretti

During the Hydrogen Days in the Territories in Pau, a focus was made on natural (or white) hydrogen. We spoke to Isabelle Moretti, former Scientific Director of Engie and a researcher at the University of Pau and Pays de l’Adour.

When the event opened its doors, François Bayrou, the Mayor of Pau, was asked about white hydrogen at the press briefing. More specifically, he was asked to comment on an alleged deposit in Moselle (Northeastern France). He replied that natural hydrogen could also be found in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region. And this is what Dr Isabelle Moretti confirms. She is considered one of the world’s leading expert in this field and she is also a member of Earth2 and vice-president of the energy pole of the French Academy of Technologies.

Emanations of natural hydrogen discovered by chance

Until recently, it was said that hydrogen did not exist naturally on Earth. But in fact it does. And what’s even more interesting is that its cost is only a few tens of cents per kilo. The best-known example is in Mali, with a well operated by the company Hydroma. “The well was dug to 100 metres and the pressure has never dropped,” says the researcher. We’ve known for a long time that hydrogen emanates at the bottom of the oceans, just as it does in mountainous regions.

As Isabelle Moretti explains, “natural hydrogen is produced by oxidation-reduction when iron-rich rocks come into contact with water.” She adds: “The emanations were found by looking for something else, such as water, coal or hydrocarbons.”

Several licence applications for white hydrogen

There has been renewed interest in the subject since French legislation recognised hydrogen as a natural resource in 2022. As a result, a number of companies are applying for licences. Examples include 45.8 Energy (which is also looking for helium) in the French regions of Massif Central and the Jura, and TBH2 Aquitaine in Pau. Dr Moretti points out that “there are indications that deposits may exist north of the Pyrenees at Orthez, and south in Spain at the Monzon well.” “Just like in the Alps,” says the expert. More recently, La Française de l’Energie announced a deposit in Lorraine.

What about natural hydrogen outside of France?

Outside mainland France, New Caledonia could represent an interesting outlet. Natural hydrogen could possibly meet about 15% of energy needs there.

There are also specialist international companies such as Natural Hydrogen Energy, which has applied for a licence in Nebraska. Several countries such as Namibia, Brazil and Australia are also interested in this white hydrogen.

Oil and energy companies lying in ambush

“It’s difficult to estimate the number of deposits,” admits Isabelle Moretti. “But who knows, maybe white hydrogen will account for 10% of hydrogen production in ten years’ time, and much more after that,” she predicts. But before all that can happen, the deposits have to be identified and the wells exploited. Although they are not saying so officially, energy producers (such as Engie) and oil companies are looking at this new source of energy. And we haven’t heard the last of it.

If you are interested about white hydrogen, perhaps you would like to learn more about its cousin: orange hydrogen.

Article written by Laurent Meillaud and translated by Logan King 

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About the author

Logan King

Logan King

After an unusual career (3 years in the French army followed by a 3-year degree in Applied Foreign Languages), it was my passion for environmental issues that finally caught up with me and led me to join Seiya Consulting and H2 Today in June 2022. First as an end-of-study internship, then as Marketing & Communication Manager and translator at Hydrogen Today.

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