07 May 2024, 13:31
Benjamin Wehrmann

Natural “white hydrogen” likely to play only limited role in German energy system – ministry


Naturally occurring hydrogen will likely only play a limited in the transition of Germany’s energy system due to the uncertain economic viability of extracting so-called “white hydrogen,” the German research ministry said in a report by business newspaper Handelsblatt. The discovery of white hydrogen reservoirs in many parts of Europe and elsewhere in the world has led to hopes for an unforeseen boon to decarbonisation plans. However, uncertainties about the climate-neutral gas’s commercial usability put a check on its potential for helping climate action and the energy transition, a spokeswoman for the ministry told the newspaper. “Even if natural reserves of hydrogen so far have been underestimated, these will in all likelihood only play a local role,” she said. “It remains open in how far extraction in Europe or Germany can be made economically viable.” Similarly, Germany’s Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR) said it cannot yet be scientifically answered “if and to what extent naturally occurring hydrogen can be used as a fuel in the 21st century.” The agency added that reliable estimates about global white hydrogen reserves so far remain wanting. Extraction of the gas would likely only be commercially viable in cases where it accumulates in reservoirs, instead of directly leaking into the atmosphere through porous layers. Already in 2020, a BGR paper stated that there are no known reservoirs of white hydrogen that come close to the scale of commercially exploited natural gas reservoirs, Handelsblatt added.

New discoveries of natural hydrogen in many countries and on all continents have led to initiatives for making the resource ready for commercial use. A hydrogen reservoir found in 2023 near the German-French border was estimated to hold up to 250 million tonnes - twice the annual amount produced by the whole world in that year. Hydrogen plays a key role in energy transition plans in Germany and Europe, with the aim being to produce vast quantities “green hydrogen” with renewable power sources, both locally and in partner countries around the world. Hydrogen can be used as a climate-friendly replacement for procedures currently relying on fossil fuels, for example in industry or aviation.

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Sören Amelang

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