Scientists have developed a large-scale economical method to extract hydrogen (H2) from oil sands (natural bitumen) and oil fields. This can be used to power hydrogen-powered vehicles, which are already marketed in some countries, as well as to generate electricity; hydrogen is regarded as an efficient transport fuel, similar to petrol and diesel, but with no pollution problems. The process can extract hydrogen from existing oil sands reservoirs, with huge existing supplies found in Canada and Venezuela. Interestingly, this process can be applied to mainstream oil fields, causing them to produce hydrogen instead of oil.
Hydrogen powered vehicles, including cars, buses, and trains, have been in development for many years. These vehicles have been acknowledged to be efficient, but the high price of extracting the Hydrogen from oil reserves has meant that the technology has not been economically viable. Now a group of Canadian engineers have developed a cheap method of extracting H2 from oil sands. They are presenting this work at the Goldschmidt Geochemistry Conference in Barcelona.
“There are vast oil sand reservoirs in several countries, with huge fields in Alberta in Canada, but also in Venezuela and other countries” said Dr. Ian Gates, of the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Calgary, and of Proton Technologies Inc.).
Oil fields, even abandoned oil fields, still contain significant amounts of oil. The researchers have found that injecting oxygen into the fields raises the temperature and liberates H2, which can them be separated from other gases via specialist filters. Hydrogen is not pre-existing in the reservoirs, but pumping oxygen means that the reaction to form hydrogen can take place.
Grant Strem, CEO of Proton Technologies which is commercializing the process says “This technique can draw up huge quantities of hydrogen while leaving the carbon in the ground. When working at production level, we anticipate we will be able to use the existing infrastructure and distribution chains to produce H2 for between 10 and 50 cents per kilo. This means it potentially costs a fraction of gasoline for equivalent output”. This compares with