Two scientists in France have discovered what may be the largest known deposit of white hydrogen, a clean energy resource that could help in the fight against climate change.
Jacques Pironon and Phillipe De Donato, directors of research at France’s National Centre of Scientific Research, found a deposit between 6 million to 250 million metric tons of white hydrogen, or naturally occurring hydrogen gas, CNN reported.
White hydrogen is relatively new to scientists. A study in 2018 that analyzed a well in Mali producing 98% hydrogen gas brought the resource to the attention of the scientific community, CNN reported.
White hydrogen and climate change
Now, researchers across the globe are interested in white hydrogen — and it could help us “get to speed” on saving the world from the climate crisis, geochemist Viacheslav Zgonnik told CNN.
Hydrogen energy is not a new idea — it only produces water when burned, making it an environment-friendly energy source.
But until recently, scientists thought mass amounts could only be produced in a lab.
“If you had asked me four years ago what I thought about natural hydrogen, I would have told you, ‘Oh, it doesn’t exist,'” Geoffrey Ellis, a geochemist with the US Geological Survey, told CNN. And turns out, Ellis would’ve been wrong.
White hydrogen refers to naturally occurring hydrogen. Its “color” indicates its origin: it is naturally produced in the Earth’s crust.
Other “shades” of hydrogen are produced in a lab. They include green hydrogen — which is made from electrolysis, the process of splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen — and gray hydrogen, which is made from methane gas, Insider previously reported.
While hydrogen is the most abundant element, it is usually attached to other molecules — making the lab production process necessary. But separating hydrogen is energy-intensive and typically powered by fossil fuels, CNN reported.
Companies explore ways to commercialize white hydrogen
Because it doesn’t require any of these energy-intensive processes, climate experts say white hydrogen could be our saving grace, according to CNN. It’s also cheaper: white hydrogen is estimated to cost about $1 per kilogram to produce, while green hydrogen costs about $6 per kilogram, per CNN.
Several start-ups are already exploring how to commercialize white hydrogen, CNN reported.
Ellis told CNN that speed is vital to ensure white hydrogen can help curb the climate crisis. But Zgonnik says he’s hopeful about the turnaround time.
“We have all necessary technology we need, with some slight modifications,” Zgonnik said.
The discovery of the largest-known white hydrogen deposit yet comes just months after the hottest summer on global record came to an end — a concerning milestone for climate researchers and activists.