Huge deposit of natural hydrogen gas detected deep in Albanian mine

An Albanian mine where hydrogen seeps naturally through the rock

FV. Donze

The largest flow of natural hydrogen ever recorded has been measured deep in an Albanian mine. This discovery could help us determine where underground deposits of this clean fuel are located.

“The bubbling is really very intense,” says Laurent Truche at the University of Grenoble Alpes in France, who measured the gas in a pool of water nearly a kilometer underground. “It’s like a jacuzzi.”

Companies are now seeking deposits of natural hydrogen around the world as a clean fuel source, but evidence of significant accumulations of this “golden hydrogen” is rare. Most claims about vast deposits of hydrogen beneath the surface are based on extrapolations rather than direct measurements.

Looking for more substantial evidence, Truche and his colleagues descended into the Bulqizë chromite mine in Albania, where hydrogen gas escaping from the rocks caused several explosions. The mine is also located in an outcrop of iron-rich rock, known as ophiolite. Water is known to react with these rocks to generate hydrogen in other places, such as Oman.

The researchers found that the pool's bubbling gas was more than 80 percent hydrogen, with methane and a small amount of nitrogen mixed in. It was flowing at a rate of 11 tons per year, almost an order of magnitude greater than any other gas. fluxes of hydrogen gas measured from point sources elsewhere on the Earth's surface.

To determine the source of the gas, the researchers also modeled different geological scenarios that could produce such a flow. They found that the most likely scenario was that the gas came from a deeper hydrogen reservoir accumulated in a fault beneath the mine. Based on the geometry of the fault, they estimate that this reservoir contains at least 5,000 to 50,000 tons of hydrogen.

“This is one of the largest volumes of natural hydrogen ever measured,” says Eric Gaucherindependent geochemist specializing in natural hydrogen.

But it's still not a huge amount, says Geoffrey Ellis at the U.S. Geological Survey. However, evidence of a stable accumulation of hydrogen supports the idea that a much larger amount is stored underground, he says. “We should really look deeper.”

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