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A new source of Hydrogen has been discovered recently. It has been named Natural/White Hydrogen. It is extracted from earth crust through drilling as Natural Gas is extracted. That is why it is called Natural Hydrogen also a la Natural Gas.

Oil and Gas E&P explorers have now a new task and opportunity to get a find of another type. We will discuss in this space the relevance of White Hydrogen to Pakistan and its E&P companies.

White Hydrogen is just the same normal Hydrogen. It is being called by two names; Natural Hydrogen and White Hydrogen to distinguish it from other sources or methods to make Hydrogen. For example, Green Hydrogen is produced by electrolysis of water and electricity produced from such renewable sources as solar, wind or even hydro.

White Hydrogen was first discovered accidentally in Mali in 2014 while looking for oil or gas. It turned out to be Hydrogen. Not much attention was paid to it for developing it. However, the pursuit of Green Hydrogen and its targets has provided a new impetus to this one, called White Hydrogen. Also, the Ukraine war has driven the motives to acquire independent gases.

White Hydrogen is produced as a result of chemical reaction of elements and compounds containing Hydrogen. It can be found in many kinds of geological conditions and locations, including those under the ocean. Earth naturally produces Hydrogen continuously where appropriate conditions exist and suitable minerals found. Oxidation of Ferrous minerals has been quoted as to be the most likely source.

Besides France and Mali, Hydrogen resources have been identified in Spain, Germany, Russia, Ukraine, Kosovo, Serbia, Kazakhstan, Finland, Sweden and Poland. Recent discovery in France is of a large deposit containing 46 million tones of Hydrogen and able to generate 3 million tones of Hydrogen per annum.

White Hydrogen if developed widely can be an additional source to Green Hydrogen releasing pressure on water sources and solar space requirements. As its production technology is extraction through boreholes as is done in case of oil and gas, a lot of lead time may not be required for its wide-scale development and adoption. It should be widely available by 2030.

The main advantage of White Hydrogen is that it will be cheap, under 1 USD per kg as opposed to the current going rate of 4-6 USD/kg of Green Hydrogen. Green Hydrogen is expected to cost 2 USD/kg by 2030 and 1 USD/kg by 2050. There are more optimistic cost projections as well.

Hydrogen has usages in many sectors: transportation, domestic cooking and heating, industrial boilers and furnaces, electricity generation and chemicals and petrochemical production. There may be many chemical, geo-chemicals, biological and other routes for Natural Hydrogen generation.

However, a lot has been researched about iron ores wherein Hydrogen is produced through ionic reaction with water. Fortunately, there are many Iron deposits totaling 1.42 billion tons in Pakistan at Chiniot, Kalabagh, Nokundi, Haripur and elswhere.

There can be multiple benefits. If Hydrogen is found near iron ore sites, there would be no need of coal in iron-making. Green Steel can be produced, which is the most sought-after subject in industrial metallurgy. Otherwise, as we have mentioned elsewhere, there are multiple uses of Hydrogen.

Our mining and Oil companies should start exploratory studies on the subject of Natural/White Hydrogen along with the coordination with universities. It may be noted that Fraunhofer Institute has organized an R&D project (HyAfrica) with a consortium of six countries (Morocco, Mali, Mozambique, South Africa, etc.) in Africa with companies. A similar consortium-like effort should begin in Pakistan.

There is a great benefit in Natural Hydrogen. Its production can be modeled on oil and gas companies licensing policy. Concessions can be awarded. No national investment would be required while Green Hydrogen would require a lot of investment.

There are a number of national E&P companies which have the geological and drilling know-how. However, there is scant activity at global level in Natural Hydrogen E&P licensing at the moment. An R&D and regulatory base may be able to attract foreign investment.

The foregoing is not to suggest that one should start running after Natural/White Hydrogen and drop pursuit of Green Hydrogen.

Green Hydrogen is a reality now and Natural Hydrogen has yet to be proven as to its wider availability beyond the fields that have been identified. For us, perhaps, both are a matter of R&D and a matter that may be relevant and practical around 2030.

There is yet another option that is ready and proven which is of Biogas. Pakistan is a populous and agricultural country having biomass of all kind from agricultural to solid and liquid waste materials that can all be converted to Biogas.

There are varying resource estimates of around 400-500 mmcfd, which is a significant amount. No research is required. It is proven and certain. Cost estimates have shown that it is cheaper than LNG and more expensive than system/ground gas. Biogas, after cleaning, can be pumped into the gas pipeline network or compressed into CNG. Both uses are feasible.

Biogas is considered renewable as opposed to ground gas. International interest in Biogas has been revived. Chevron has launched several projects in the US. The EU has re-established Biogas targets to 20% of the gas imports from Russia in the wake of the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

Fortunately, awareness and sensitivity on the subject has increased over the years. Two gas companies have started preliminary work on Biogas. Sindh government has also initiated a project on Bio-CNG in Cattle Colony, Karachi. There is a need for a Biogas policy that integrates and solves various financial and administrative issues.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

Syed Akhtar Ali

The writer is former Member Energy, Planning Commission and author of several books on the energy sector

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