• How a Canadian Company is Turning Oil into Green Hydrogen

How a Canadian Company is Turning Oil into Green Hydrogen

Mar 23 2020 Read 691 Times

While Canada is known for its resource-rich oil sands, the country is making waves with a new technology that transforms crude into green hydrogen. The innovative method was pioneered by Proton Technologies, a Canadian-based start-up that plans to generate clean hydrogen through subterranean oil, gas and coal-bed fires. By sparking underground chemical reactions, Proton produce hydrogen that's 10 times cheaper and much more eco-friendly than the current production techniques currently in use.

The company is conducting trials at the Superb oil field in Saskatchewan, with workers pumping air or oxygen into underground oil, gas or coal reservoirs. The oxygen is then set on fire to ignite the hydrocarbons and generate temperatures of above 500°C. One the target temperature is reached, steam or existing water vapour is injected into the reservoir to react with the hydrocarbons and create syngas, a blend of hydrogen and carbon monoxide. By adding extra water to the syngas Proton triggers a reaction that maximises hydrogen production.

Harnessing zero carbon hydrogen

The use of patented palladium-alloy membranes forces carbon dioxide and other impurities to remain underground, with only clean-burning hydrogen allowed to diffuse through the shield and reach the surface. "We want to launch the idea that you can get energy from petroleum resources and it can be zero carbon emissions,” says Ian Gates, co-founder of Proton Technologies and a chemical engineer at the University of Calgary.

The market for hydrogen is rapidly growing, with the chemical element coveted for its negligible environmental footprint. It's becoming an increasingly popular fuel for heat, power and transport, with water its only by-product. While most hydrogen is made from natural gas or by electrolysing water, the new method from Proton Technologies presents an affordable and eco-friendly alternative.

Transforming "abandoned liability" into hydrogen hubs

In the future, Proton Technologies CEO Grant Strem predicts the concept could be used to clean up decommissioned oil fields and transform them into hydrogen hubs. "Someone’s abandoned liability becomes our hydrogen field,” says Strem, who purchased the Superb field after the owners filed for bankruptcy.

One of the major challenges of "fire flooding" is controlling reactions deep underground. Optimising temperatures to maximise hydrogen production is key, which calls for precision and accuracy. Moving forward, Proton Technologies is aiming to raise US$50 million to fund the next field test and experiment with carrying out the technique deeper in the wells. Ultimately, he hopes the company will be able to produce the gas for as low as 10 cents per kilogram.

From producing green hydrogen to capturing natural gas, safety is always front of mind in the energy industry. For a closer look at the latest OGI technology being used to enhance safety within oil and gas applications, don't miss 'How Optical Gas Imaging Tools Promote a Culture of Safety.

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