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Black & Veatch studies extraction of natural hydrogen and helium in Australia

| By Mary Bailey

Black & Veatch (Overland Park, Kan.) will study the exploration and extraction of natural hydrogen and helium in Australia.

The development study is an engineering services agreement between Australian-owned natural hydrogen company H2EX Limited, a world leader in exploring naturally occurring hydrogen, and Black & Veatch. The study is part of an Australian Federal Government-funded project led by H2EX.

Natural hydrogen, also known as gold or white hydrogen, refers to hydrogen found in its natural form as a free gas.

“Decarbonisation efforts in the Asia Pacific are a priority for Black & Veatch. This includes extracting natural hydrogen, a potential clean energy source for the region,” said Yatin Premchand, managing director, Strategic Growth, Global Advisory, Black & Veatch.

“Black & Veatch has an 80-year history working with hydrogen and ammonia production in multiple industries. The company developed the first hydrogen power generation conversion project and the first major hydrogen fueling station deployment in the United States. Since then, our experts have continued to deliver reliable innovation and first-of-a-kind solutions across the hydrogen value chain,” added Premchand.

Hydrogen has the potential to reduce and replace reliance on fossil fuels for electricity generation as well as long-duration energy storage, heating, transport, and production of green chemicals and fertilizer. Hydrogen can also be turned into green ammonia, which is produced using 100 percent carbon-free renewable energy.

Helium is used in defence, medicine, manufacturing and energy applications including magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners and fibre optic cable manufacturing.

Black & Veatch will provide two concept designs on H2EX’s exploration license PEL 691 on the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia as part of the development study. One concept design will be for the drilling and completion of an exploration well. The other concept design will be for surface facilities to purify, process and deliver natural hydrogen and helium, including co-production of the resources, if they are found together.

“We are pleased to partner with a technically progressive and experienced global engineering services firm like Black & Veatch. This important development study will help H2EX fast-track our first exploration wells and development scheme. If successful, hydrogen will be a great source of energy for power generation and transport on the Eyre Peninsula,” said Mark Hanna, H2EX CEO & managing director.

“Natural hydrogen will help decarbonise the region, which predominantly uses liquid fuels for energy and transport. Helium is also a high-value and scarce commodity. Recent drilling in South Australia has found high concentrations of helium, too,” added Hanna.

Black & Veatch will analyse gas industry practices related to conventional well drilling and extraction infrastructure and identify key considerations to adapt these practices for natural hydrogen and helium.

The research into extraction solutions will provide a pathway to drill and extract the lowest-cost hydrogen, which could be up to 75 percent more cost-effective than manufacturing hydrogen.

The objective of the study is to unlock first-mover benefits for Australia within an emerging sector globally, as well as create substantial local and export opportunities while retaining the country’s competitive advantage and technical and engineering expertise.

The study is partly funded by Australia’s Federal Department of Science and Innovation through its Cooperative Research Council Projects (CRC-P) Grants Round 14 initiative. The CRC-P grant supports short-term, industry-led research collaborations. The study is estimated to be completed by mid-2024.

The Australian Government is investing more than $500 million (USD 332 million) to support the development of hydrogen hubs in regional Australia. The Regional Hydrogen Hubs programme is part of the government’s $40 billion (USD 26 billion) investment to transform the country into a powerhouse of green energy generation and innovation.