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H2: from energy vector to primary energy?

Could hydrogen be one of the clean, sustainable energy sources of the future?

Today, di-hydrogen (H2) is only an intermediate product, primarily obtained by hydrocarbon reforming and mainly used for chemicals. It is also an energy vector that is increasingly being considered for certain uses (transport, storage and intermittent renewable energies), but the costs – including environmental – remain high.

What if H2 existed in its natural state in a usable form? What if it was a primary energy source, like oil or gas? This would be a genuine paradigm shift!

Until very recently, H2 was considered to be non-existent in its native state, due to the oxidizing conditions that reign on the superficial layers of our planet. With exceptions confirming the rule, however, specific geological conditions exist, in which contact of meteoric water with rocks containing reducing elements – primarily ferrous iron – produces native H2. These environments are inaccessible (mid-oceanic ridges) or rare (terrestrial mountain ranges containing peridotites).

The discovery in Western Russia, in the center of the Volga-Ural craton, of circular depressions emitting di-hydrogen raises hopes of a native H2 that might be of real economic interest(1). Cratons are the old, stable part of the continental lithosphere, located in the center of continents, and represent 50% of the earth's surface: a genuine mine! H2 has also been detected inside other cratons, in North and South America, as well as in Africa.

IFPEN's research in this area is now focusing on production and transport mechanisms for the gas(2), in order to assess how this resource could contribute to the energy mix of the future.


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Published in Issue 21 of the information letter Science@ifpen - June 2015


  • (1) N. Larin, V. Zgonnik, S. Rodina, E. Deville, A. Prinzhofer and V.N. Larin, Natural Molecular Hydrogen Seepage Associated with Surficial, Rounded Depressions on the European Craton in Russia - Natural Resources Research, 2015.
    >> DOI: 10.1007/s11053-014-9257-5
  • (2) J. Guelard, Origin and dynamics of natural hydrogen flows in a continental environment: Rock/Water/Gas systems. The example of Eastern Kansas.
    >> Ongoing doctoral research.

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