The Gold Hydrogen Rush: Extracting golden hydrogen from depleted oil reserves

What is gold hydrogen? 

Many processes connect the oil and gas industry with the hydrogen industry. For example, blue, grey, and black hydrogen originate from oil and gas processing. Diesel and hydrogen hybrid engines combine hydrocarbon and hydrogen fuels. Oil and gas companies are leading the way into the research and development of white and orange and clear hydrogen.  

A new exciting process which connects the oil and gas industry to the hydrogen industry is gold hydrogen. In contrast to other hydrogen generation methods, gold hydrogen is made by injecting bacteria that convert residual hydrocarbons located within depleted, abandoned oil wells into CO2 and H2 gases. While the H2 is collected for use, the CO2 is sequestered, making gold hydrogen a zero to negative carbon emission process. Through this method, golden hydrogen allows for oil and gas companies to make “second use” of old oil and natural gas assets, extending the profitability of drilling projects.  

A Houston startup company, Cemvita, is starting to test out this process at a research scale. If successful, Cemvita’s process will revolutionize biomining and subsurface biomanufacturing. 

In the US, as a result of the Inflation Reduction Act, companies can receive 3 dollars in tax credits for each Kg of clean hydrogen produced. Compared to the cost of green hydrogen, which can cost between $2/Kg to $5/Kg, gold hydrogen is much less costly, producing hydrogen at a price of 1$/Kg or less, comparable to the pricing of orange and white hydrogen production. Thus, gold hydrogen appears as a strong emerging competitor to other renewable hydrogen generation methods.  

Optimizing golden hydrogen bioreactors  

In order to have enough bacteria to extract sufficient amounts of hydrogen and carbon dioxide from depleted oil wells, golden hydrogen bioreactors are used to rapidly multiply genetically modified microbes with the ability to eat hydrocarbons.  

For this process, geneticists change the genes and enzymes of microorganisms in the bioreactor systems. As a result, the microorganisms acquire new attributes which allow them to become more tolerant of the harsh conditions within oil and natural gas reserves and to acquire new abilities such as heavy metal removal or ethylene production.  

In these bioreactors, repeatable and scalable flow control is critical. By precisely controlling the gas mixes into these systems, researchers can optimize microbial growth rates.  

Alicat’s mass flow controllers such as MC-Series or CODA KC-Series provide extensive control range and gas compatibility to flow oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, and other important biogases into various sized bioreactors. Additionally, the range of analog, serial, and industrial communication protocols of these devices simplify data transfer and closed-loop automation.  

Custom device options for 316L stainless steel, USP Class VI elastomers, IP66 or IP67 ingress protection, and class 1 div 2 environments allow for operation in more highly regulated areas.  

MC-Series features and specs: 

  • 0.5 SCCM full scale to 5,000 SLPM full scale with a turndown of 0.01% – 100% of full scale 
  • NIST-traceable accuracy up to ±0.5% of reading or ±0.1% of full scale 
  • Repeatability ±0.1% of reading + 0.02% of full scale 
  • Control response times as fast as 30 ms 
  • A range of analog, serial, and industrial protocol communication options  

CODA KC-Series features and specs: 

  • 40 g/h full scale to 100 kg/h full scale with a turndown of 2% – 100% of full scale 
  • NIST-traceable gas accuracy up to ±0.5% of reading or ±0.05% of full scale, whichever is greater 
  • Repeatability ±0.05% of reading + 0.025% of full scale 
  • Control response times as fast as 500 ms 
  • A range of serial, and industrial protocol communication options  

Alicat devices have been cited in over 1000 research papers so far within a wide range of industries. Alicat mass flow and pressure devices are used for numerous bioreactor applications, from microbe culturing, artificial meat production, wine and beer fermentation, and more.

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