“Sometimes we miss things in front of our faces. We don’t see what we aren’t looking for. “We can be blind to the obvious, and we are also blind to our blindness,” Daniel Kahneman, the psychologist who shared a Nobel in economic science, wrote in his 2011 book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow.” A flower, for instance. “Nobody sees a flower — really — it is so small — we haven’t time — and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time,” the artist Georgia O’Keeffe once wrote.
You know what else has been hiding in plain sight? Hydrogen, the most abundant element in the universe. Hydrogen, which is heralded as the clean energy carrier of the future because its only combustion product is water.
Sure, we’ve known about the hydrogen that’s locked up with oxygen in water molecules and with carbon in fossil fuels like propane. But we — and by “we” I mean everybody except for a handful of scientists and some people in Mali (I’ll get to that) — never really saw, and never expected to see, hydrogen floating around on its own in gaseous form.
“Hydrogen does not exist freely in nature,” the National Renewable Energy Laboratory confidently states on its website. “Hydrogen occurs naturally on Earth only in compound form with other elements in liquids, gases or solids,” the U.S. Energy Information Administration avers.”
“. . . . . But the optimism is welling up. There may be hundreds of millions of megatons of hydrogen in Earth’s crust, and even if only 10 percent of it is accessible, that would last thousands of years at the current rate of consumption, Geoffrey Ellis, a research geologist for the U.S. Geological Survey in Denver, told me. He and a colleague, Sarah Gelman, presented their findings to the Geological Society of America in October.
As for cost, natural hydrogen from the ground should be producible for less than $1 per kilogram, versus around $5 per kilogram for green hydrogen that’s derived from water by electrolysis, said Viacheslav Zgonnik, the chief executive of a Denver-based start-up, Natural Hydrogen Energy. “My opinion is biased, of course, but I believe that it will happen. That’s why I’m continuing to work on it,” he said. ” . . . . .