A hydrogen-fueled Next Big Thing from 1986 (www.hydrogencarsnow.com).
by Dan Burns
Mar 24, 2024, 4:30 PM

“Golden hydrogen” as the next overhyped dud in energy

The idea of “golden hydrogen” seems to be that there are these huge reservoirs of that good old most fundamental of elements just waiting to be found and “exploited.” This article does a solid job of discussing that. Though I do always bear in mind that E&E News is a division of Politico.

As is generally the case in situations like these when I started searching “gold hydrogen” there was plenty of stuff like that right from the top. But it took a while to locate a really good “reality check.”

It’s lovely to think there are vast sources of continuously produced clean hydrogen from chemical reactions of water on hot rocks within the Earth, ready to be tapped as a clean energy source and solve the world’s energy problems.

It’s a great story—easy to sell—but it’s likely too good to be true…

Recent claims by scientists at the University of Lorraine that a field in northeast France contained up to 250 million tons of almost pure hydrogen have yet to be independently verified. The United States Geological Survey is presently building a global resource model to help estimate the potential for geohydrogen; it may help determine for the general public the potential impact of natural hydrogen resources.

But wait—last I checked, global energy companies spend billions drilling in the most inhospitable places on the planet to bring society low-cost molecules to burn, providing the power necessary for increasing global prosperity and making billions more for themselves. The Exxons, Shells, and BPs of the world employ the best geologists, geophysicists, and drillers on Earth. Having drilled most everywhere on the planet, it is hard to imagine that they would have overlooked large quantities of hydrogen waiting to be recovered economically.
(Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists)

My own particular experience with hydrogen as “fuel” took place back in 8th-grade science, when we were learning the basics of chemistry. The lab assignment was to stuff wooden popsicle sticks into a test tube, and rig up an outlet with corks and glass tubing ending in a plastic bottle. An alcohol burner (are those things still legal in schools?) was put under the test tube to make charcoal, and the gases (which include methane, that is, mostly hydrogen) were collected in the bottle. At some point the instructions said to detach a tube from a cork and briefly attempt to set alight what was coming from the tube and observe the gentle flame. My lab partner and I misread that, detached the bottle, and stuck a match to the mouth of it. The resulting flame and “whoosh” were sudden and startling but harmless. We received a mild but effective scolding.

I brought up that anecdote because it was also in the 1970s that people started getting giddy over the notion of hydrogen-powered cars as a sure thing futuristic certainty. Hasn’t happened. But solar cells started happening for real, then, too, and they most certainly have happened, and will continue to do so. Many have bemoaned how the lessons of history don’t get learned.

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