Hydrogen has long been hailed as a 'wonder fuel' as it doesn't give off any greenhouse gases when used. However, it's very expensive to make. But if you don't have to make it because you find it occurring naturally in a vast subterranean deposit, suddenly this clean energy source becomes immediately viable.
Recently, scientists at the University of Lorraine were searching for methane in north-east France, when they unexpectedly discovered a large deposit of natural hydrogen more than 1,000 metres deep underground. This hydrogen is produced by groundwater reacting with iron-rich minerals, splitting the water into hydrogen, possibly renewing itself almost indefinitely.
Small natural hydrogen deposits have been found before and larger deposits are thought to exist too, but the discovery in France is the largest naturally occurring deposit of the gas ever found. Scientists estimate this underground deposit could contain 250 million tonnes of hydrogen - which would be sufficient to meet current global demand for more than two years.
The next step? Figuring is how to transport that gas cheaply and safely to where it is needed.
Whilst the world awaits the advent of nuclear fusion - the world’s biggest experimental nuclear fusion reactor was inaugurated in Japan in December last year - and for clean geothermal energy to become viable, natural deposits of hydrogen may provide a helpful stopgap.
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