Massive 'White Hydrogen' Discovery Could be Very Good News for Environment

Nov 13, 2023

First, some good news about hydrogen: It’s the most common element in the universe. When pure, it can be burned as an energy source. And when it's burned, all it leaves behind is H₂O. That's the chemical formula for fresh water.

Now, the bad news: We almost always find it joined with other elements. H₂O is an example of this. To purify it requires a lot of energy. That often means burning fossil fuels which release gasses that lead to climate change. 

But there's also exciting news: a team of experts have found a deposit of pure, or “white,” hydrogen. It's buried beneath the fields of Lorraine, France. Jacques Pironon and Phillipe De Donato work at France’s National Centre of Scientific Research. They were using an underground probe to record methane levels. As they probed deeper, they found more pure hydrogen. They think the deposit could contain between 6 million and 250 million metric tons of hydrogen. That would make it one of the largest ever found, CNN reports.     

Finds like the one in Lorraine and a smaller deposit beneath a well in the African country of Mali have changed scientists’ understanding of hydrogen.  

“If you had asked me four years ago what I thought about natural hydrogen, I would have told you ‘oh, it doesn’t exist,’” Geoffrey Ellis told CNN. He's a geochemist with the US Geological Survey. The new finds have him convinced there could be “tens of billions of tons” of white hydrogen beneath the earth’s surface. Ellis thinks it has the potential to spur a “second revolution” in clean energy science. Before that happens, we will need to come up with ways to safely mine and process it.   

GIF from Wikimedia commons courtesy of SE3-29X.

Reflect: What are your thoughts on the idea of finding new sources of energy that are cleaner for the environment? How do you think these discoveries might impact the way we power things in the future?

Which paragraph from the story highlights the challenges associated with finding and using pure hydrogen? (Common Core RI.5.5; RI.6.5)
a. first
b. second
c. third
d. fourth
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