Study on natural hydrogen | “Commercial quantities” in Quebec soil?

The subsoil of Quebec possibly contains “commercial quantities” of natural hydrogen, a fuel which does not generate any greenhouse gases and which is not the result of human production like green hydrogen, reveals a first study on the subject.

This potential is explained by the presence, and quality, in the province of “source rocks” in which hydrogen is usually found in its natural state, concludes the vast research entitled “Potential of natural hydrogen in Quebec ( Canada): a first assessment”, published Monday in the scientific journal Frontiers in Geochemistry.

The size of Quebec, the diversity of its geological environments and their wide range of ages make it “a promising territory for the exploration of natural hydrogen,” write the authors.

“There is a lot of academic research or exploration by private companies elsewhere in the world, but not in Quebec, not in Canada; but it’s coming, “said The Press the main author of the study, Stephan Séjourné, exploration geologist, president of Enki GéoSolutions and associate professor at the Water Land Environment Center of the National Institute of Scientific Research (INRS).


Stephan Séjourné, exploration geologist, president of Enki GéoSolutions and associate professor at the Water Land Environment Center of the National Institute of Scientific Research

The study is therefore intended to be an “inventory that can serve as a starting point” and aims to avoid a disorderly rush which would risk creating conflicts of use and thus compromising the social acceptability of the exploitation of this resource, continues Mr. Séjourné.

Throughout Quebec

Natural hydrogen is created by physical or chemical processes in particular rock types, conditions and environments, summarizes Stephan Séjourné.

“Minerals in certain rocks can react, transform into other minerals and, in the process, release hydrogen,” he explains.

The beautiful thing about this is that nature takes care of it.

Stephan Séjourné

And the conditions for this to happen can be found almost everywhere in Quebec, reveals the study in which he participated, which also detected the proven presence of hydrogen in certain places.

South of the St. Lawrence River, the “source rocks” are located at depth, under sedimentary layers, which is more conducive to the discovery of hydrogen reservoirs, the results of past accumulation.

North of the river, in the Canadian Shield, the “source rocks” are more on the surface, where hydrogen is less likely to accumulate in reservoirs, but where “contemporary production” is possible.

Because this is one of the particularities of hydrogen: certain deposits discovered around the world seem to be renewing themselves, explains Mr. Séjourné.

In contrast, green hydrogen is the result of an industrial process; In particular, hydrogen can be extracted from water by electrolysis, by breaking down water molecules with an electric current, which requires large amounts of electricity.

Hydrogen does not generate any greenhouse gases (GHG) because it does not contain carbon; during its combustion, the hydrogen molecule, which is composed of two hydrogen atoms (H2), splits and recombines with an oxygen molecule to form water (H2O).

Energetic transition

Long considered a “geological curiosity”, hydrogen is now seen as a solution for decarbonizing energy-intensive uses that are difficult to electrify, but it is unlikely that it will replace hydrocarbons on a large scale, believes Stéphan Séjourné.

“Hydrogen is a very small molecule, which escapes easily from containers, so it is very expensive to transport large quantities over long distances,” he explains, seeing more of small-scale operations located close to end users.

What will change the situation are small discoveries that accumulate and which will have a local impact.

Stéphan Séjourné

Mr. Séjourné gives the example of a deposit recently discovered by French researchers in a mine in Albania, which would have the potential to operate heavy equipment and thus decarbonize its production.

“The important thing with natural hydrogen is what we do with it. If it is added to the consumption of hydrocarbons, it will not help us much for the energy transition, but if it replaces hydrocarbons, then it becomes useful,” indicates Mr. Séjourné.

Next steps

This study provides an overview of the six reports that the Legault government commissioned from the same INRS researchers, relating in particular to the state of current scientific knowledge on natural hydrogen and the ways of detecting it, but also drawing up an inventory “potential source rock areas for natural hydrogen” in the province.

These reports were submitted last summer to the Ministry of the Economy, Innovation and Energy (MEIE), which has not yet made them public and which refused to transmit them to The Pressaffirming that they are still in the draft stage.

The Ministry did not want to indicate to The Press what he intended to do with it.

The “Quebec Strategy on Green Hydrogen and Bioenergy 2030”, published in 2022 by the Legault government, only mentioned natural hydrogen once, calling for its potential to be documented in Quebec.

Now that this is done, “the next logical step would be to see (…) if there is a sufficient quantity so that it can contribute to the energy transition and how we can exploit it in a way responsible,” believes Stephan Séjourné.


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