MADRID – With an investment of €900 million, Spain can start extracting natural hydrogen and helium in the Aragon region in 2028. That would make Spain the first country in Europe with a natural, sustainable hydrogen centre.
The project in the first underground hydrogen deposit in Europe would create 300 direct and highly skilled jobs. Furthermore, it would also create 1,500 indirect jobs in a region that is severely depopulated. It has the potential to become the most important European supplier of sustainable hydrogen in the near future.
Key player in reducing CO2 emissions
Experts expect hydrogen to be a key player in reducing CO2 emissions and decarbonising the world. This is because hydrogen is an energy carrier that can be produced without CO2 emissions if it is done with renewable energy sources.
There are two main types of hydrogen, depending on its origin. The first is green, obtained using electricity from renewable sources, and the second is grey, produced by hydrocarbons. But there is also natural hydrogen, that is, hydrogen that accumulates in the depths of the Earth.
Helios Aragón PTE plans to extract natural hydrogen and helium – both gases with a very limited presence on the Earth’s surface – from two underground reserves near Monzón and Barbastro (Aragón). Moreover, the company already has permits to operate 60,000 hectares in the region.
Related post: France, Spain and Portugal want subsea hydrogen pipelines
A significant obstacle to the project is now only the current Spanish legislation on climate change. Pure hydrogen, which has never been extracted on the European continent, is classified as a hydrocarbon (like oil) in the eyes of Spanish law. While it is not if one looks at the chemical composition. Since 2021, the exploration and exploitation of hydrocarbons have been banned. Therefore, the company wants to include the exploitation of natural hydrogen in the Spanish mining law. France has just taken the same step.
Very competitive price
The gas is also referred to as ‘golden hydrogen’ because it practically does not exist on the planet in a pure form: it is usually produced from other substances. Energy experts market it at a very competitive price (€0.75/kilo), while green hydrogen, produced with the surplus from renewable sources, costs between €7 and €8 per kilo.
Hence, investors are very interested in the discovery of the stock in the Pyrenees. The reserves are located in an area of almost 90,000 hectares. Helios Aragón PTE has arranged exploration permits for 60,200 hectares.
In addition to the extremely rare existence of ‘golden’ hydrogen, a small supply of helium has been discovered in the Pyrenees. That could account for up to 4% of the total gas in this natural reserve. Helium is one of the most coveted gases on the market. Its price has increased by 250% in the past five years, reaching values 100 times higher than that of natural gas. There is no production of this type in Spain, despite the fact that 10% of the national industry is related to this gas.
“Traditional” extraction techniques
The hydrogen and helium would be extracted using “traditional” oil and gas production techniques, says Ian Munro, the CEO of Helios Aragón. ‘Fracking’ has been banned in Europe and Aragon since 2012 and is not being considered because it is not necessary. “Hydrogen and helium are light gases that don’t need any help to take off,” Munro explains.
Minimal environmental impact
In any case, the CEO of Helios Aragón promises that the environmental impact will be “minimal”. It has “visually nothing to do with a mine”. The company wants to use the local economy to carry out the project.
The program is now in phase two and awaits an environmental impact assessment, approval of wells, drilling of the exploratory well and confirmation of the scope of resources. At this stage, 14 million euros will be invested. Subsequently, and only if the legislation allows it, the major investments starting with around 900 million euros will be made. The extraction project would have a lifespan of 20 years. After the hydrogen has been extracted from the reserve, it can be used as a storage place for green hydrogen. It is produced with a surplus of renewable energy sources.
Related post: This Spanish hydrogen train wants to revolutionise transport