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This company:

https://proton.energy/

Is trying to inject oxygen into old oil wells for it to combust and extract only hydrogen using steam reforming and a filter. Making steam reforming happen underground and thus leaving all the CO2 underneath. Short explanation here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8MU3BoEt-FM

Is this a feasible approach? What hurdles can there be? Why nobody else seems to be trying this?

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  • THE PROTON PROCESS Find out how we make Hydrogen from Deep Earth LEARN MORE --> 404 PAGE NOT FOUND Oct 15 '20 at 0:01
  • @KeithMcClary cannot find that 404
    – juan Isaza
    Oct 15 '20 at 10:07
  • 1
    For me, the "LEARN MORE" link is proton.energy/hygenic-earth-energy , which gives me 404. I found more info by googling "Proton’s patented Hygenerator". Oct 15 '20 at 19:05
  • Great, any conclusions?
    – juan Isaza
    Oct 17 '20 at 10:19
  • Great buzz words. I finally remembered what the old name is ; Lurgi Gasifier, maybe with some Fischer Tropsh tech. Basically making fuel gas from coal or oil. The new wrinkle is they do it underground ; then you don't see the coal or oil fed into the process. A good trick as doing it in controlled vessels is difficult enough. Mar 31 at 22:29
1

The proton.energy website is very optimistic, maybe a bit too much. I see a number of (potential) problems:

  • The technology uses "hydrocarbon reservoirs" which is a different word for existing oil and gas fields, so that makes the resulting fuel non-renewable.
  • The exact process is not clear to me, but the paper they link to talks about water being injected and that may not be readily available in some situations (e.g. middle east deserts). On the other hand this page doesn't say anything about water, so perhaps they are using a different process?
  • It's not clear to me how they are preventing other gases to escape when they pump up the hydrogen. Current oil extraction also involves capturing or flaring natural gas, which contributes to rising CO2 levels
  • Hydrogen can be transported in current gas pipelines as the website claims, but some minor modifications are needed and the "without hardware changes" claimed by the website does not seem entirely incorrect1

This is not to say that (some of) these problems cannot be solved, but at the moment I'm still a bit skeptical. I don't think it will be as easy as the website suggests and I do wonder how close to carbon-neutral the resulting fuel will be.

1) Hydrogen makes metal brittle and despite all the reports that say current gas pipelines can be used with only small modifications, so far I haven't seen a good solution for this. Then again, this is outside of my knowledge area so perhaps there is a good solution.

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  • Its clear that it's non-renewable, but still it emits no C02 and that is the ultimate goal to reduce climate change.
    – juan Isaza
    Nov 3 '20 at 11:13
  • I don't know if they are planning to inject water, it could be a problem in the middle east, but not in Canada where the company is based.
    – juan Isaza
    Nov 3 '20 at 11:14
  • They claim they developed a filter that only lets hydrogen get through and they say this is the key innovation. They use a well on top of the reaction, with a filter on top to get only the hydrogen out.
    – juan Isaza
    Nov 3 '20 at 11:16
  • Concerning pipes, I'm not an expert, it could be a problem. Perhaps for small quantities they can use trucks, at least for the proof of concept.
    – juan Isaza
    Nov 3 '20 at 11:17
  • "capturing or flaring natural gas" ... and letting it leak, which is worse. Current research seems to suggest that methane leaks obviate any greenhouse advantage from burning methane instead of heavier hydrocarbons. This "hydrogen reformation in a natural cavity" process seems as though it would be at least as prone to leaks as fracturing.
    – Móż
    Dec 1 '20 at 22:21
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Mostly existing technology except for the magic filter that separate the hydrogen ; Look up "fire flood" oil recovery. Fire flood injects HOT air to ignite hydrocarbons in the formation . No water necessary as it is always in the formation. The existing technology uses the pressurized combustion gases and formation hydrocarbons to push to recovering wells. Presently the recovery wells pump out water , liquid hydrocarbons ,and gasses which are separated in surface equipment. If any hydrogen is produced ( I never heard that it was ) it would go with the methane. I have written more than I know about it but I am certain SPE has monograph or something on fire flood, steam flood , and huff and puff petroleum production. Thinking about it a minute , I think what won't work the most is heating millions of tons of formation rock ( many are carbonates) to 700 C where the hydrogen is formed.

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I'll answer only the "why not" question because I don't know about the feasibility of their plans.

Why nobody else seems to be trying this?

Because of two reasons.

Firstly, if you extract natural gas from a field, you can do the steam reforming over the ground. Then you will also have a place where to store the resulting carbon dioxide -- into a depleted natural gas field. So, if you really really want to do steam reforming with CO2 sequestration, there's no need to do it underground.

However, today in most regions that are not very far from the equator, it's already today cheapest to produce energy by solar power. The second cheapest energy production method is wind power. (Far away from the equator the order is reversed.) The trouble is, those have zero fuel costs. Meaning that when the amount of energy that can be produced exceeds the demand for energy, the price of electricity falls to zero. This doesn't make solar and wind power infeasible because they make most of their revenue when energy is scarce but not so scarce that production is zero. When there's absolutely no sunshine and wind (and energy is expensive), revenue is zero due to no energy available, and when there's plenty of sunshine and wind (and energy is zero-priced), revenue is zero due to zero-priced energy.

It is inevitable that the amount of installed solar and wind energy will become so large that we will see a very large fraction of all hours being these zero-priced hours (perhaps even free electricity for half of the hours). Thus, it makes far more sense to create hydrogen using electrolysis of water, because there aren't exactly that many ways free electricity could be put to useful use.

Today electrolysis cells cost around 1000 EUR per kilowatt, but because the technology is not rocket science unlike solar photovoltaics (that by the way cost today only 200 EUR per kilowatt), we will very likely see in the near future electrolysis cells at a price of 200 EUR per kilowatt.

Also, when the solar and wind share of all energy grows, the electricity consumed by these cheap electrolysis cells is zero-priced. You just turn the cells off when energy becomes too expensive.

Can't compete with that with any steam reforming process, whether it is happening over or under the ground, whether it is sequestering the CO2 or not.

And in the meantime, before electricity becomes free half of the time and before electrolysis cells reach a low price, the hydrogen can be produced over the ground with steam reforming, deciding whether to capture the CO2 or not based on the price of CO2 in the emission trading schemes.

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