Innovation That Matters

Cemvita uses microbes to make hydrogen from spent oil and gas wells | Photo source Cemvita

Oil-eating bacteria produce 'gold' hydrogen

Agriculture & Energy

A startup has developed a way to produce hydrogen using spent oil and gas wells

Spotted: Hydrogen has been touted as a potential fuel for the future. Hydrogen is light, storable, energy-dense, and produces no direct emissions of pollutants or greenhouse gases. However, one major stumbling block is that most hydrogen is currently produced from fossil fuel sources, with around 6 per cent of global natural gas going to hydrogen production in 2019. As a result, production of hydrogen is responsible for CO2 emissions equivalent to that of the United Kingdom and Indonesia combined.

To find a ‘green’ source of hydrogen production, US startup Cemvita Factory is using special microbes to generate hydrogen from depleted and abandoned oil and gas wells. The company’s process uses naturally occurring micro-organisms that consume the carbon in the gas and oil and release hydrogen – generating up to 20-50 tonnes of what it terms ‘gold’ hydrogen per field. Cemvita defines gold hydrogen as “the biological production of hydrogen in the subsurface through the consumption of trapped or abandoned resources”.

Cemvita claims that its researchers have been able to increase the performance of the microbes by six and a half times their natural rate – enough to produce hydrogen at a cost of $1 per kilogramme. This is thought to be a key cost target needed to advance toward commercialisation. In addition, by producing the gold hydrogen from depleted oil reservoirs that are ready for abandonment, the life of wells is significantly extended – saving money.

Traditional methods of producing hydrogen cleanly include electrolysis powered by renewable sources like wind, solar, or hydro. But Cemvita is confident that its process could prove equally sustainable. “In a very short time frame, we moved our microbes from the lab to the field. The hydrogen production in this trial exceeded our expectations,” said Zach Broussard, Director of Gold H2 at Cemvita.

The race is on to produce and transport green hydrogen cheaply and at scale. Springwise has seen this in many recent innovations which range from a new way to produce renewable hydrogen fuel using sunlight to repurposing natural gas pipelines to transport hydrogen.

Written By: Lisa Magloff



Download PDF