Possibly a Trillion Tons of Mineable Hydrogen

There appears to be large amounts of hydrogen in underground reservoirs. Hydroma and other companies have recently bought land rights and built mining operations. They are close to pumping commercial hydrogen from underground mines. If there are huge hydrogen resources that can be mined then it could change the economics of a potential hydrogen economy. Hydrogen is currently produced by using electrolysis to split water or other processes to separate hydrogen from methane. Producing hydrogen is usually quite costly and energy intensive. Mining hydrogen could be far cheaper and there could be a 1000 times more hydrogen available underground than we currently produce.

At USGS (US Geological Survey), Ellis, thinks the Earth produces orders of magnitude more hydrogen each year than the 90 million tons that humans manufacture. But it’s not only that flow that matters—it’s the size of the underground stock. They used a simple box model borrowed from the oil industry. The model accounted for impermeable rock traps of different kinds, the destructive effect of microbes, and the assumption—based on oil industry experience—that only 10% of hydrogen accumulations might ever be tapped economically. Ellis says the model comes up with a range of numbers centered around a trillion tons of hydrogen. That would satisfy world demand for thousands of years even if the green-energy transition triggers a surge in hydrogen use. Much of this global resource could end up being too scattered to be captured economically, like the millions of tons of gold that are dissolved in the oceans at parts per trillion levels.

In November 2020, Luke Titus found an obscure 1944 report: Bulletin Number 22 from the Department of Mines of the Geological Survey of South Australia. It contained an analysis of data from farmers who had banded together to search for oil, using divining rods and other questionable techniques. Titus, co-founder of a company called Gold Hydrogen, saw the data from one borehole, drilled in 1921 on Kangaroo Island. It had produced as much as 80% hydrogen. Another well, on the nearby Yorke Peninsula, was close to 70%.

In February 2021, when South Australia expanded its oil regulations to allow drilling for hydrogen. Titus submitted an application to explore nearly 8000 square kilometers on the Yorke Peninsula and Kangaroo Island.

The first target for natural hydrogen explorers should be shallow accumulations that sit under impermeable caps within a kilometer or two of the surface. If the source rocks themselves are within reach, hydrogen could be collected from them directly, like oil from fracked shale; water could even be injected into the iron-rich rock to stimulate production. While collecting hydrogen, the well could also tap the geothermal energy in the heated water that returns to the surface. If carbon dioxide were dissolved in the injected water, it could react with magnesium and calcium in the iron-containing rocks and be locked up permanently as limestone. This would also sequester carbon while extracting hydrogen.


1 Radiolysis

Trace radioactive elements in rocks emit radiation that can split water. The process is slow, so ancient rocks are most likely to generate hydrogen.

2 Serpentinization

At high temperatures, water reacts with iron-rich rocks to make hydrogen. The fast and renewable reactions, called serpentinization, may drive most production.

3 Deep-seated

Streams of hydrogen from Earth’s core or mantle may rise along tectonic plate boundaries and faults. But the theory of these vast, deep stores is controversial.

Loss mechanisms
4 Seeps

Hydrogen travels quickly through faults and fractures. It can also diffuse through rocks. Weak seeps might explain shallow depressions sometimes called fairy circles.

5 Microbes

In shallower layers of soil and rock, microbes consume hydrogen for energy, often producing methane.

6 Abiotic reactions

At deeper levels, hydrogen reacts withrocks and gases to form water, methane, and mineral compounds.


7 Traps

Hydrogen might be tapped like oil and gas—by drilling into reservoirs trapped in porous rocks below salt deposits or other impermeable rock layers.

8 Direct

It might also be possible to tap the iron-rich source rocks directly, if they’re shallow and fractured enough to allow hydrogen to be collected.

9 Enhanced

Hydrogen production might be stimulated by pumping water into iron-rich rocks. Adding carbon dioxide would sequester it from the atmosphere, slowing climate change.

23 thoughts on “Possibly a Trillion Tons of Mineable Hydrogen”

  1. How much hydrogen? And what is the projected use rate if it is cheap and plentiful?

    Seems to me that when hydrogen is burned it creates water. Some concerns about sea levels, of course, but also about atmospheric oxygen levels.

    Maybe it’s too little to worry about–but maybe it isn’t. I dunno.

    • Let’s say all the hydrogen is burned. Burning H2 makes H2O – so 1 trillion tonnes becomes 9 trillion tonnes of water. It’ll take about 80 years at current energy usage, so it happens pretty slowly. Earth’s oceans cover 361 trillion square metres and there’s 1 tonne water per cubic metre. Adding 9 trillion tonnes increases the depth of the Oceans by 9/361 = 0.0249 metres, so about 1 inch.
      As for the oxygen consumed, there’s 1,480 trillion tonnes available, so it’d consume 0.66% of the available oxygen burning all that hydrogen. We’d go from 20.9% O2 to 20.8% O2. According to this guideline [ https://www.cacgas.com.au/blog/bid/378107/oxygen-o2-occupational-health-exposure-standards ] the safe minimum is 19.5%. Of course the way to reverse lack of O2 is more photosynthesising biomass.

  2. Woah. Way too early to ascertain H2 ‘reserves’, inferred resources, possible ‘promising’ geological formations, etc. This of course would be a fusion-promise level game-changer to supplement battery, nuclear, and politically-deteriorating (if not reserve-deteriorating) fossil resources into full independence into the last half of this century.

    • “risks of overpopulation”
      I can have *some* sympathy for worries about that before about the late 1960s, which is when family size dropped to replacement level or below in prosperous countries, ie: countries with plentiful energy.
      After that, anyone who thought of overpopulation as a problem should have been pushing for cheap nuclear energy as well as freely available contraception.

  3. This would be one more central production, planet oriented source of energy. Energy sources that can be owned by the consumer of said energy, and that can be used for permeant off-world installations will give us the Sol system.

    Since NASA is a failure at launch vehicle innovation, maybe it could develop MSRs, and large scale waste heat radiators for orbital, and “land” large extraterrestrial outposts. For instance a huge Mars cycler for people, freight, and research, or lava tube based town-cities.

    • The problem with geothermal is that the thermal conductivity of rock isn’t all that great. You start out pulling a lot of heat out of the rock, but then the rock immediately around your bore cools, and the output drops off. The long term limit for output per square meter of surface is pretty low by the time it reaches equilibrium.

      You can bypass this problem by tapping hot water underground, but that has so much dissolved minerals in it, which drop out as soon as you extract the heat, that fouling of your pipes becomes a horrible problem.

      • I was wondering about that. Your explanation answers it. It appears the only real energy solution is MSR and other advanced fission power.

  4. I think there is a lot of merit in the abiogenic origin of petroleum and it seems to be related to the natural processes described here. The fossil reserves can’t all be dinosaur/algae lipids – hydrocarbons are all over the solar system. Pressure in the earth is great – there is primordial carbon – catalytic reactions – water, oxygen…. Want to see heads explode – argue that deep earth processes will renew the petroleum reserves. Not sure if it is true, but food for thought and what if experiments.

    • Oh, deep earth processes will definitely renew the petroleum reserves, just like they accumulated them in the first place. What is left to determine is how much petroleum these processes generate each year, which I expect is low enough that we can safely ignore them.

      • Theories of abiotic hydrocarbon production mostly have relevance to where you might find usable hydrocarbons. You’re right, the accumulation rate would be far to slow to matter on a human scale.

        I’m not that enthusiastic about proposals to permanently sequester CO2 far beyond easy reach; It’s not widely appreciated in these days of global warming hysteria that the Earth has been sequestering carbon for billions of years, and at this point the biosphere is actually carbon starved. We came close to a dieoff of C-3 photosynthesis plants during the last ice age, and even now they’re not doing so great, which is why C-4 grasses are so widespread.

        Why sequester what our descendants will desperately need?

        • I don’t see any reason why we can’t engineer better plant uptake of CO2, but then I think we’d do better in the long term to either build a Sun-Shade, Move the Earth or Renovate the Sun. If we’re going to worry about long-term draw-down, then we might as well get started on a fix rather than a patch.

    • Yeah it’s funny how a petroleum reservoir gets replenished after it’s been sucked dry by an oil company huh

      • There’s no question about coal, none at all. You can actually see that it’s composed of compressed and transformed plant matter. It dates back to when the first woody plants evolved, and nothing had any way of digesting cellulose, so the dead trees just piled up, layer after layer. Coal stopped forming when a mold evolved that could digest wood.

        Oil is kind of a mixed bag, based on isotopic analysis some of it is biological, some of it abiotic. Natural gas, too; It IS commonly associated with coal, after all, and we know that’s biological in origin.

        • Coal formation *slowed* when a mold evolved that could digest wood.
          There is coal that formed more recently than the Carboniferous. Eg: Cretaceous era coal in Alberta.
          Just not as much per million years. It takes less common circumstances for the coal to form.
          Even currently there are peat bogs that might form coal if they get buried.

          • That’s a really good question. It’s definitely possible on Mars. The Moon… it’s hard to judge just how much deep water there might be. I wouldn’t rule it out yet, but it’ll be hard to spot. Certainly an orbiter should be able to spot hydrogen seeps but they’d be hard to distinguish from the Solar Wind, except when the hydrogen is freshly released and not yet mixed with the Solar Wind’s hydrogen.

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