The 2023 Wrap Up

"We have now clearly entered the growing phase of a new industry."

Our scientific committee shared her perspective on the key takeaways from HNAT 2024 for the industry.

The third edition of H-NAT held the 27-28th of November has just wrapped up. It was the first face-to-face meeting and was convened outside Paris where delegates converged to Perth, Australia; remote connection and live streaming also worked. Over 200 key players of the natural hydrogen (H2) ecosystem discussed together, in the conference room and among the booths of the sponsors, with an additional 150 participants attending online. More than 30 countries were represented. These two days were followed by a technical workshop of another 3 days of discussions including a final day field trip attended by researchers from the CSIRO, the Australian Science Research Agency, and the international community. A format that was highly appreciated by those who attended the week-long event.

The landscape for H2 exploration has drastically transitioned over the past 3 years and we have now clearly entered the growing phase of this emerging industry. The H-NAT2023 program was divided between the main events worldwide, the new tools and the new concepts, and the evolution of the legal requirements for H2 exploitation in various countries. A special focus on the H2 exploration and law in Australia was also timely.

In terms of H2 exploration licenses, which is obviously the bottleneck for faster resource development, following Mali, Australia, and USA, who lead the race, France has 6 applications for H2 exploration licenses that have now been submitted (with 1 just awarded) and a few countries in eastern Europe are also open for submissions. The Aragon case in Spain seems resolved and the Colombian Ministry of Mines and Energy announced during H-Nat2023 that the law allowing H2 exploration in its country is ready and waiting.

Since 2022, the H2 ecosystem is closer to mainstream recognition with the creation of the TID (Task In Definition) concerning natural hydrogen within the IEA (International Energy Agency) and the growth of EartH2 that brings together the European players of H2 in the subsurface (exploration/production as well underground storage). Various stakeholders are also pushing at the European Union level to have natural hydrogen included in the decarbonized energy mix that the EU is promoting. Many of the stakeholders support the idea of creating a federation of H2 E&P actors, though it remains unclear whether the lead should come from the countries themselves or by industry leaders. We also noted the very rapid and massive growth in public money invested in geological H2 research in the USA. In other countries, financial support for research comes mainly from industry.

One of the major innovations since HNAT2022 was the increasing number of new tools arriving on the market. 11 talks about these new tools were presented, including those that are currently in the research phase such as new permanent captors for soil gas monitoring, or dissolved gas characterization. But – and this was also one of the great novelties of this conference – geophysical tools are now available. Specifically, passive seismic, active seismic, and data reprocessing to image the presence of H2 were presented as possibilities. Within the research breakthroughs, the identification of the H2 source has taken a big step forward with the ability to reliably measure the clumped isotopes of hydrogen gas (i.e., D2), the quantification of geologic hydrogen generation based on lab experiments, and the modeling of H2 flow in the subsurface is now possible with an increasing number of case studies available. Few talks highlighted the complexity of the rocks capable to generate hydrogen and emphasized the necessity for new data and new tolls, ideally fast to use, regarding their hydrogen generation potential. Furthermore, the concept of stimulating underground hydrogen has also been mentioned and will be tested in the field in Oman in the upcoming months.

Among the operating companies, Hydroma and Gold Hydrogen presented their latest results. Hydroma tested the use of their H2 within a fuel cell directly – demonstrating sufficient purity. Gold Hydrogen found 73 % H2 on testing in their initial well in the Yorke Peninsula, South Australia (and Australia’s first well specifically targeting natural hydrogen); this result confirms a similar high H2 content from the same reservoir within the close-by historic well drilled nearly a century ago. What’s also exciting is that this new well also found around 4 % helium co-produced with H2, thus increasing its potential economic value. From the United States H2 activity is also strong although we didn’t hear too many details from this region … maybe at the next HNAT?

Regarding new data in countries or basins where H2 exploration hasn’t yet started, the potential of the Llanos and the Cauca-Paita Valley in Colombia was presented as well as data from USA, Namibia, Mozambique, South Africa, Brazil, Canada, France, and obviously Australia. A taste of the hydrogen potential of some African countries including Mozambique, South Africa, and Morocco showed a widespread occurrence on the continent.
Knowledge gained from over a century of understanding the petroleum system is being rapidly transferred to the natural hydrogen system, however greater gains in H2 exploration can also be achieved by considering the mineral system – a holistic approach was needed and is now being applied.