US DOE injects $20m into geological hydrogen production

The US Department of Energy (DOE) has allocated $20m to develop technologies that can stimulate the generation of hydrogen within the subsurface at a low cost and with low environmental impact.

News of the funding follows the discovery of natural underground hydrogen deposits called geological hydrogen. The discovery found two main areas with the right conditions to make a lot of hydrogen. One is along the Atlantic coast, and the other is in the central US, covering parts of the Great Plains and the Upper Midwest.

The Atlantic area of interest stretches along most of the East Coast and is associated with a band of iron-rich rock layers buried deep beneath the ocean floor. Geophysical surveys have confirmed that some of the iron in these rocks has reacted with water and produced hydrogen, which most likely escaped from the iron-rich rocks and migrated along sedimentary layers toward the shore.

The central US area is related to rocks that were formed when an ancient rift almost split North America in two. The failed rift, known as the Midcontinent Rift, occurred over a billion years ago, and underlies Lake Superior and much of Iowa, Minnesota, and Michigan. Although the rift failed in dividing the continent, it did bring vast quantities of minerals to the upper layers of the Earth’s crust, including iron-rich minerals that could form hydrogen.

While the supply of naturally accumulating hydrogen, in and of itself, can enhance the US energy economy, reduced iron minerals within the Earth’s crust have the theoretical potential to produce even more hydrogen from reactions within the subsurface.

Using stimulated mineralogical processes could yield larger quantities of hydrogen than what are produced naturally. Thus, engineering the production of subsurface hydrogen could be a substantial source of clean energy.

Evelyn Wang, Director of the US’ Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy, notes the discovery as a significant opportunity to accelerate the development of hydrogen production.

The funding is part of two Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy exploratory topics outlined below:

  • Exploratory Topic G: Production of geologic hydrogen through stimulated mineralogical processes. This project seeks technologies that stimulate hydrogen production from mineral deposits found in the subsurface, including developing the understanding of hydrogen-producing geochemical reactions and how to enhance or control the rate of hydrogen production.
  • Exploratory Topic H: Subsurface engineering for hydrogen reservoir management. This project focuses on technologies relevant to the extraction of geologic hydrogen, including improvements in subsurface transport methods and engineered containment, reservoir monitoring and/or modelling during production and extraction, as well as assessing the risk of hydrogen reservoir development.

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