Is this the future of extracting hydrogen? (mage credit: Getty Images)


A new discovery from a team of scientists may change the way we think about hydrogen. A group of Canadian engineers claims they have developed a way to extract hydrogen from oil without releasing greenhouse gases. The team says the technology has the potential to supply Canada’s entire electricity requirement for the next 220 years. Their research was presented at the Goldschmidt Geochemistry Conference in Barcelona.


So why is this a big deal? Hydrogen doesn’t produce pollution when burned, unlike gas and diesel. And while some car manufacturers use hydrogen to power vehicles, the cost of extracting the hydrogen is considered too high to be rolled out on a wide scale. Not to mention, most of the hydrogen used by cars comes from natural gas, which produces planet harming methane when extracted.


According to the researchers, they were able to extract hydrogen from oil sands and oil fields, which leaves gases like carbon dioxide and methane in the ground. The overall process is also cheaper than current methods. It would only cost between $0.10 – 0.50 per kilo to produce hydrogen, compared with the current cost of around $2 per kilo.


"Low-cost hydrogen from oil fields with no emissions can power the whole world using mostly existing infrastructure," Grant Stem, CEO of Proton Technologies, which is commercializing the extraction method, told AFP. "This is the silver bullet for clean energy and clean climate."


Often times abandoned oil fields still contain significant amounts of oil, which could be used to extract hydrogen. The team discovered that injecting oxygen into the fields raised their underlying temperature. This freed up the hydrogen that can be filtered from other gases.


It all sounds promising, but there are still several things to consider with the biggest being the technology itself. So far, the team hasn’t exactly explained how the method works or what they’re using to achieve extraction. Experts are also concerned about not releasing CO2 into the atmosphere. Professor Brian Horsfield from the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences to AFP that extensive field testing would be needed to see how the system works on an industrial scale. Still, he called the project "highly innovative and exciting."


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