IFPEN is already active in some of the technological building blocks of the hydrogen value chain (H2) and a road map is being examined concerning investment in other areas.
While the first offshore natural hydrogen sources were discovered in the 1970s, IFPEN was one of the first research centers in the world to actively investigate land-based H2 emission zones from the 2000s.
« More and more indicators are prompting major industry players to wonder whether the substantial production of natural hydrogen may be possible. The research we have been carrying out for the past few years is contributing to a paradigm shift relating to this natural hydrogen: until recently, it was thought to occur on an occasional basis only, in well-defined environments only, localized to plate boundary zones. We have helped demonstrate that the production of H2 in natural environments is actually relatively common, particularly, in intracratonic environments, and when the bedrock is relatively shallow.
These sources, observed in intracontinental regions and, in particular, in the oldest parts (Precambrian cratons), are really interesting, due to the accessibility of the resource and the number of seeps already identified! Our work has already led to the identification of H2 flows in circular depressions in Western Russia, the Carolina Bays and the Eastern USA, and in the Kansas plains. It is these structures that are being studied as part of the sen4H2 project, which aims to detect and qualify natural H2 seeps on the earth’s surface using satellite images.
In addition to being a carrier of energy, hydrogen could therefore also be a source of energy, with its combustion emitting only water. However, numerous questions still need to be answered to help us understand how hydrogen is formed and how it migrates in the underground environment, whether it can be accumulated and produced, etc. Considerable research efforts are required to overcome existing challenges, both technical and economic. But if the feasibility of natural hydrogen production is confirmed, the hard work will all have been worthwhile! »
Vivien Esnault, Hydrogen project manager, IFPEN
>> Consult Julia Guélard's thesis: "Characterization of natural dihydrogen emanations in the intracratonic context. Example of a gas/water/rock interaction in Kansas".
Green hydrogen production via electrocatalysis
IFPEN is actively involved in the MoSHy collaborative project, aimed at developing methodologies to define an economical electrocatalyst for the production of hydrogen from water.
The decarbonization of hydrogen produced from hydrocarbons
Currently, 95% of hydrogen production is based on the conversion of hydrocarbons via reforming and gasification processes. When combined with geological CO2 capture and storage techniques, this hydrogen can become low-carbon hydrogen. IFPEN develops different post-combustion and oxycombustion capture technologies.
Hydrogen production via biogas reforming
Green hydrogen can also be produced via the reforming of a biogas produced by methanization.
Production of hydrogen from bioethanol
Another hydrogen production route consists in converting bioethanol via catalytic steam reforming, as in the process jointly developed by IFPEN and Hyradix.
The increased share of variable wind and photovoltaic electricity production requires the development of energy storage solutions. Large-scale hydrogen storage, primarily in salt caverns, could help smooth out seasonal variations.
IFPEN's expertise and tools developed for exploration/production can be applied in this field to:
- model the mechanical resistance of storage facilities,
- simulate the interaction between hydrogen, the cavern and its walls,
- evaluate the risks of corrosion and deterioration of metals and materials in the structures.
IFPEN is working on this area in partnership with Storengy.
Hydrogen conversion via methanation
“Green” methanation refers to the combination:
- of green hydrogen resulting from electrolysis, biomass gasification or the decarbonization of fossil hydrogen,
- and CO2 captured in an industrial production facility.
E-fuels, synthetic fuels produced from “green” electricity, group together different products. Some are produced by Fischer-Tropsch synthesis using green hydrogen. IFPEN is working on this process and the associated catalysts, particularly for biofuel production.