Clean, cheap hydrogen from those oil-eating microbes?

Producing low-carbon hydrogen at a lower cost has become the dream of many. Today, an American company proposes to exploit oil-eating microbes for this. A cheap process, according to first estimates. But maybe not so clean.

Germs don’t have a good reputation. The term itself has a negative connotation. In many minds, a germ is a dirty thing. of harmful. For biologists, however, it does not mean much, since it designates various organisms. Viruses, bacteria, fungi, etc.

The microbe is, in reality, neither more nor less than a microscopic organism, a micro-organism. And some are at least useful, sometimes valuable. For millennia, yeasts, for example, have helped us produce alcohol. Hence the increasingly developing idea of ​​exploiting the capabilities of microbes to help the energy transition of our society.

In the United States, the Cemvita Factory hopes to be successful in producing carbon-neutral hydrogen from petroleum. And that probably needs some explanation. Let us first remember that today, almost all the hydrogen produced in the world is still produced from the reforming of fossil resources. Therefore, producing hydrogen from oil is nothing new.

Clean hydrogen, seriously?

But the oil in question here is a bit special oil. Oil that remains unexploited in “depleted” wells. Untapped because it is too expensive to mine. Cemvita plans to inject into these wells microorganisms whose natural abilities have been genetically enhanced by its experts. To encourage them to multiply and feed on oil while excreting hydrogen.

A super bacteria doubles the biological production of hydrogen

The first little hiccup in history is that these microorganisms also do not produce hydrogen. They also produce… carbon dioxide, the famous COtwo. A bit like what happens with the reform process, finally. This is a bad point. ‘Cause you know, the COtwo It is a greenhouse gas that actively contributes to global warming. But Cemvita promises to join these old oil wells that have been converted into hydrogen production farms, CO capture systemstwo. So that the carbon is not released into the atmosphere, but can be stored underground. That is why here, it will never be a question of talking about green hydrogen. At most, carbon-neutral hydrogen. Assuming that the oil companies that Cemvita will likely have to rely on to operate its technology actually capture and store COtwo issued in the process.

The second small mishap in history comes from the side “genetically enhanced”. Because, above all, the authorities will have to validate that these microorganisms can be safely injected into depleted oil wells. They will not cause unwanted environmental damage.

The good news, however, is that after carrying out initial tests on site, Cemvita says production has exceeded expectations. Hydrogen levels three times higher than the laboratory reference value were achieved. Enough to encourage the company’s experts to promise the production of hydrogen at costs that could be lower than those of reforming.

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