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Study on natural hydrogen |  “Commercial quantities” in Quebec soil?

Study on natural hydrogen | “Commercial quantities” in Quebec soil?

The ground in Quebec likely contains “commercial quantities” of natural hydrogen, a fuel that generates no greenhouse gases and is not the result of human production like green hydrogen, a first study on the subject has revealed.

This potential is explained by the presence and quality in the province of “source rocks” in which hydrogen is usually found in its natural state, concludes the massive research entitled “Natural hydrogen potential in Quebec (Canada): a first assessment”, published on Monday in the scientific journal Frontiers in geochemistry.

Quebec's size, the diversity of its geological environments, and the diversity of its ages make it a “promising area for natural hydrogen exploration,” the authors write.

“There is a lot of academic research or exploration being done by private companies elsewhere in the world, but not in Quebec, not in Canada; “But it’s coming,” he said. Journalism The study's lead author, Stéphane Sigourney, is an exploration geologist, president of Enki GéoSolutions and associate professor at the Center for Water and Land Environment of the National Institute for Scientific Research (INRS).

Photo by Alain Roberge, Press Archive

Stephane Sigourney, exploration geologist and president of Enki GéoSolutions and associate professor at the Center for Water and Land Environment of the National Institute of Scientific Research

Therefore, the study is intended to be “an inventory that can serve as a starting point” and aims to avoid an unorganized rush that could lead to the risk of creating conflicts of use and thus compromising the social acceptability of exploiting this resource, continues Mr. Sigourney.

All over Quebec

Natural hydrogen is created through physical or chemical processes in specific rock types, conditions and environments, as Stephane Sigournet summarizes.

“Minerals in some rocks can react, transforming into other minerals and, in the process, releasing hydrogen,” he explains.

The beautiful thing about this is that nature takes care of it.

Stefan Sigourney

The conditions necessary for this to happen can be found almost everywhere in Quebec, reveals the study he participated in, which also revealed the presence of hydrogen with certainty in certain places.

To the south of the St. Lawrence River, “source rocks” lie deep, beneath sedimentary layers, which is more conducive to the discovery of hydrogen reservoirs, the results of past accumulations.

North of the river, in the Canadian Shield, “source rocks” are found more at the surface, where hydrogen accumulation in reservoirs is less likely, but where “contemporary production” is possible.

Because that's one of the properties of hydrogen: some deposits discovered around the world seem to renew themselves, Mr. Sigourney explains.

In contrast, green hydrogen is the result of an industrial process; In particular, hydrogen can be extracted from water by electrolysis, by breaking down water molecules with an electric current, which requires large amounts of electricity.

Hydrogen does not generate any greenhouse gases (GHG) because it does not contain carbon; During its combustion, the hydrogen molecule, which consists of two hydrogen atoms (H2), splits and combines with an oxygen molecule to form water (H2Hey).

Active transformation

Long considered a “geological curiosity”, hydrogen is now seen as a solution to decarbonise energy-intensive uses that are difficult to electrify, but is unlikely to replace hydrocarbons on a large scale, believes Stephane Sigournet.

“Hydrogen is a very small molecule, it easily escapes from containers, so it is very expensive to transport large quantities over long distances,” he explains, with more small-scale operations being seen located closer to end users.

What will change the situation are small discoveries that accumulate that will have a local impact.

Stefan Sigourney

Mr. Sigournet gives the example of deposits recently discovered by French researchers in a mine in Albania, which would have the potential to power heavy equipment and thus decarbonize its production.

“The important thing with natural hydrogen is what we do with it. If it is added to the consumption of hydrocarbons, it will not help us much in the energy transition, but if it replaces hydrocarbons, it becomes useful,” points out Mr. Sigournet.

Next steps

This study provides an overview of the six reports commissioned by the Government of Lugo from the same INRS researchers, relating in particular to the state of current scientific knowledge on natural hydrogen and methods for its discovery, but also establishing an inventory of “potential source rock areas for natural hydrogen” in the province.

These reports were submitted last summer to the Ministry of Economy, Innovation and Energy (MEIE), which has not yet published them and which has refused to forward them to JournalismConfirming that they are still in the draft stage.

The Ministry did not want to point this out Journalism What he intended to do with it.

The “Quebec Strategy on Green Hydrogen and Bioenergy 2030”, published by the Legault government in 2022, mentioned natural hydrogen only once, and called for its potential to be documented in Quebec.

Now that that was done, “the next logical step would be to go and see […] Whether there is enough of it to be able to contribute to the energy transition and how can we exploit it responsibly,” says Stephane Ségournet.

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