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World's largest find of ‘gold hydrogen’ — naturally occuring deposit — made in Albania

Parts of the town of Bulqizë and its chrome mine in Albania. Image: Wikimedia

Scientists have discovered one of the largest deposits of natural hydrogen gas in Albania, providing evidence of so-called 'gold' hydrogen, or large naturally occurring deposits of the clean fuel that can be extracted like other minerals.

Scientists led by Laurent Truche, from the University of Grenoble Alpes in France, investigated a chromite mine in the town on Bulqizë in Albania. The mine is located in an exposure of ophiolite, an iron-rich rock that causes a reaction within water and creates hydrogen -- in fact, hydrogen gas seeping out of the rocks at Bulqizë has caused explosions in the past. 

The scientists discovered a pool of water almost a kilometre beneath the earth's surface from where the hydrogen was "intensely" bubbling out. Truche, who measured the gas, said it was "like a Jacuzzi".

The gas bubbling out was discovered to be a mixture containing more than 80 per cent hydrogen, with smaller amounts of amounts of methane and nitrogen. 

The scientists modeled different geological scenarios that could produce such a flow, and concluded the gas was most likely escaping from a deeper-lying deposit of hydrogen located beneath the mine. Their estimates reveal the deposit contains between 5,000 to 50,000 tonnes of hydrogen.

While the likely quantum of the find might not be high, it remains the largest flow of natural hydrogen gas recorded so far. In their report, published in the magazine Science, the scientis said: "A minimum of 200 tonnes of hydrogen is vented annually from the mine's galleries, making it one of the largest recorded H2 flow rates to date".  

The discovery could also help scientists refine their methods for locating hydrogen deposits. As the scientists state in their report: "Places with similar geology should be good targets for finding other natural sources of hydrogen".

Companies have been stepping up their search for such deposits, although evidence of large hydrogen reservoirs is sparse given its highly reactive nature: the most abundant element in the universe is also a hugely reactive one. While oil companies have sometimes discovered natural hydrogen in their wells while drilling for the black gold, most experts say naturally occurring hydrogen is rare and usually only available in small quantities.  

Geoffrey Ellis, from the US Geological Survey, said the estimated deposit isn't large. But the discovery indicates the possibility that there could be much larger deposits underground. To tap them, he said, "We really should be looking deeper."

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