Climate Confident

From Methane to Minerals: The Pioneering Path to Carbon-Negative Energy

November 22, 2023 Tom Raftery / Arnaud Lager Season 1 Episode 146
Climate Confident
From Methane to Minerals: The Pioneering Path to Carbon-Negative Energy
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Show Notes Transcript

Welcome to another enlightening episode of the Climate Confident Podcast. Today I have the pleasure of diving deep into the world of carbon-negative hydrogen with Arnaud Lager, the Founder and CEO of Decahydron.

Arnaud brought to light some groundbreaking work his team is doing in Ra's al Khaimah, UAE. They're not just creating hydrogen; they're doing it in a way that actively reduces carbon emissions. The magic happens through a unique process where methane is cracked to produce hydrogen, coupled with capturing CO2 from local cement industries. But here's the clincher – this CO2 isn't just captured; it's transformed into carbonate minerals by being injected into ultramafic rocks, ensuring it's locked away permanently.

We also explored the fascinating potential of natural hydrogen reserves in the region. Imagine, hydrogen bubbling up from the ground – it's not science fiction but a reality that could revolutionize our energy landscape. Decahydron's pursuit of this untapped resource could be a game-changer, offering a more sustainable and cost-effective hydrogen source.

But it's not all about hydrogen. Arnaud and his team have set ambitious goals for CO2 sequestration, aiming to tackle gigatons of emissions. Their approach is pragmatic yet innovative, focusing first on high-concentration CO2 sources before venturing into more dilute areas like direct air capture.

This episode is a must-listen for anyone interested in the cutting-edge of climate technology and sustainable energy. Arnaud's insights offer a glimpse into a future where energy production and environmental stewardship can go hand in hand.

Stay tuned for more updates on Decahydron's progress and do check out their website for the latest news. Remember, tackling climate change requires a variety of approaches, and it's pioneers like Arnaud who are leading the charge.

Btw, don't forget to check out the video version of this podcast at https://youtu.be/lJv5RZfzj1I

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Credits
Music credits - Intro by Joseph McDade, and Outro music for this podcast was composed, played, and produced by my daughter Luna Juniper

Arnaud Lager:

Our aim for the hydrogen is at the end to replace all the methane, and my dream is for the UAE to not export methane anymore, but export hydrogen. And we remove all the carbon from the methane here locally inject it in the ultramafic rock and export the hydrogen. And I think that is one of the way of fighting climate change.

Tom Raftery:

Good morning, good afternoon, or good evening, wherever you are in the world. This is the Climate Confident podcast, the number one podcast showcasing best practices in climate emission reductions and removals, and I'm your host, Tom Raftery. Don't forget to click follow on this podcast in your podcast app of choice to be sure you don't miss any episodes. Hi, everyone, and welcome to episode 146 of the Climate Confident podcast. My name is Tom Raftery. And before we kick off today's show, I have a bit of news. I would like to welcome a new supporter of this podcast, Marcel Roquette. Marcel signed up just over a week ago and I didn't have time last week to include the fact that he signed up in the episode. So apologies for that, Marcel, and thank you so much for signing up. Really, really, really appreciate it. If you're not already a supporter, I'd like to encourage you to consider joining our community of like minded individuals who are passionate about climate. Supporting the podcast is easy and affordable with options starting as low as just three euros or dollars a month. That's less than the cost of your latte and your support will make a huge difference in keeping this show going strong, just like Marcel is doing. To become a supporter, simply click on the support link in the show notes of this or any episode, or visit tinyurl. com slash climatepod. Now, without further ado, with me on the show today, I have my special guest, Arnaud. Arnaud, welcome to the podcast. Would you like to introduce yourself?

Arnaud Lager:

Hi my name is Arnaud Lager. I am the CEO and founder of Decahydron. We are a startup specializing in carbon negative hydrogen in Ra's al Khaimah in the UAE.

Tom Raftery:

Oh, okay. So people, I'm guessing the majority of people listening to this Arnaud have never heard of carbon negative hydrogen. Can you explain that concept for us please?

Arnaud Lager:

Yes, it's a, a concept we came up about two years ago when we were looking at all the different ways of making hydrogen, and we've noticed that, at best to make hydrogen, you are carbon neutral. And that is really at best. What we noticed is that a lot of people are talking about hydrogen and CO2 sequestration, but nobody really thought about putting the two together. And our objective is to create hydrogen by cracking methane, which is called blue hydrogen, but also to link it with the local cement industries that we have here. That is emitting about three to 5 million tons of CO2 per year. So our objective is to create our hydrogen and use our facilities to capture the CO2 from their cement plant and turning them green. At the same time we are lucky enough here in the UAE to have some very special rocks, which are called ultramafic, where we can inject the CO2 directly, and it'll turn it the CO2 into a carbonate minerals. So we will turn it back into stone and that will sequester the CO2 permanently without any chance of it leaking back to the atmosphere. That is our plan.

Tom Raftery:

Okay, so a two-prong plan. Generate the hydrogen . Capture the CO2 and then put the CO2 either into concrete with concrete, local concrete manufacturers or injected underground in rock formations where it will be permanently sequestered. Is that, is that a good summation?

Arnaud Lager:

It is a good summation and the vast majority in fact is going to be injected underground in this ultramafic rock and turn into a, a carbonate minerals. Some of it, some of the CO2 can be turned back, as you said, into the cement plant to be reintroducing the cement, but the vast majority is going to be sequestrated underground.

Tom Raftery:

Okay. And talk to me a little bit about this rock, because there it has some unique characteristics that make it suitable, particularly suitable for this right?

Arnaud Lager:

Yes, it is quite unique. It is in fact the crust and the mantle of the earth. And normally it is situated 20 kilometers deep underground. But here in the, Al Hajar mountain, in the UAE. And in Oman, it has been thrusted up to the surface and it's, it is quite unique in the UAE and there's kilometers, there's cubic kilometers and cubic kilometers of this rock. I mean, it is about 60 kilometers wide, 700 kilometers long, and 10 to 20 kilometer deep, and it's very reactive with CO2. If you inject CO2 into it, in a couple of years, all your CO2 will be turned into a rock and there's enough of this ultramafic rock to be able to sequester all the CO2s that we are emitting currently and in the near future. So it's a very, very important tool to fight global warming.

Tom Raftery:

Okay.. Gimme a little bit of an idea of the scale of the amount of CO2 that this rock formation could sequester.

Arnaud Lager:

Well, it could sequester about, I would say, 200 gigatons of CO2, which would be about a quarter of all the CO2s that we have released in the atmosphere since. It's the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century. So there is a substantial target there, but at the moment we are just aiming to sequester 3 million tons of CO2 per year. And then if we are successful in this small scale pilot, we can then look at importing CO2 from other countries mainly by a boat, and inject it in our in our rocks. One of the reason why we want to do it by boat is the UAE and Qatar, for example, are using a lot of LNG tankers that ship the methane to Japan, Europe, or the US and when they come back, they come back empty. And what we want to do is instead of coming back empty, we fill them up with CO2, they arrive here at port, we unload them. Put methane back, or even better if we could fill them up with hydrogen and like this, we could clean up the full energy stream of hydrocarbon.

Tom Raftery:

Okay. And how? How can we tell that the CO2 injected into the rock is fully sequestered, that we don't have any escape. Is it? I mean, is it a hundred percent sequestered? Is it 90% sequestered? You know, and how do we, how do we measure and validate that?

Arnaud Lager:

So on a geological timescale, it's a hundred percent of the CO2. It will take about from the test we've done from three to 10 years for 95% of the CO2 to be fully sequestered. And the way we would measure it is'cause we cannot have a look underground ourself because we would be injecting the CO2 down to three kilometers depth. We will use what is called magnetotelluric method, which we will record the change in the magnetic field of the earth,'cause one thing that happened when we inject the CO2 in this rock, there's a chemical reaction and a little bit of a mineral called magnetite is being formed. And this mineral has a magnetic property. And we can measure precisely the change in the magnetic field of the area where we're injecting the CO2, and that would tell us how much CO2 we've sequestered. On top of that, there's other geochemical methods that we can use and also surface monitoring to make sure that no surfeit CO2 is escaping. But we know that because we're injecting the CO2 so deep underground, there's very, very little chance that the CO2 will escape. In fact, there's none.

Tom Raftery:

Okay, so you're, you're injecting it, you said three kilometers underground. Are, is it just you're pumping gas down or are you pumping it down in a kind of a carbonate liquid form?

Arnaud Lager:

So there's two different ways of doing it. People have done it by mixing it with water and injecting this carbonated water underground. This is what is being done at the moment in Iceland. The issue with this is you need 25 ton of water per ton of CO2. And because we're in a desert here, that's not a sustainable way of doing it. So what we will do instead is injecting the CO2 in a super critical form, which means that it's neither gas, neither liquid. It has property of both. It just mean that the pressure is higher and we inject it at the temperature of 32 degrees centigrade. And by injecting this pure CO2, we avoid injecting water and it is the water that is already present in the ground that is doing the work for us and will slowly turn the CO2 into carbonate minerals.

Tom Raftery:

Okay, and three kilometers seems a long way down. Is that standard or is that is the reason for this something to do with the local geology?

Arnaud Lager:

So there's two reason. First is the deeper we are the safer it is and the best it is that we are sure that the CO2 will not rise up to the surface. And also three kilometers is down to the geology where we know at this depth that we will encounter the right rocks that will have the right permeability so that we can inject our CO2. Three kilometers sounds deep, but the local oil field here in the region are down to between three to six kilometers. So it, it is fairly standard in the oil industry to drill at those depth.

Tom Raftery:

Okay. Okay. Interesting. And so that's the, the carbon capture side of it. Then there is, you will be splitting methane, cracking methane to create hydrogen. What are you hoping to do with the hydrogen?

Arnaud Lager:

So our first client that we're aiming for is linked to the cement industry. It is for the local quarry, which use a lot of very big mining trucks. There are a hundred ton mining trucks that are running diesel at the moment, and in total they use, they are, those trucks are emitting 1.5 million tons of CO2 per year. Which represent 0.5% of the CO2 emission of the UAE, which is quite a lot for just about 200 trucks. So our aim is to get those trucks with hydrogen so that we can remove the diesel from them and prevent 1.5 million tons of CO2 being emitted at the same time this hydrogen will be cheaper for them to run than than diesel because the hydrogen that we will be producing comes from blue hydrogen, so from methane, and it's a lot cheaper than having hydrogen from green energy. Like, electrolysis. Our cost will be below $5 per kilo. Whereas at the moment in the UAE green hydrogen is above $10 a kilo. And the breakeven cost with diesel is about five to $6 per kilo. So that is our, our aim.

Tom Raftery:

Okay. And longer term, are you I mean you mentioned potentially exporting hydrogen. Where would that be to, and for whom?

Arnaud Lager:

The UAE has issued an hydrogen roadmap where they want to produce 50,000 tons of hydrogen per per day for the local and international market. How is this hydrogen is going to be transported? We are not a hundred percent sure at the moment. Is it going to be hydrogen form or under the form of ammonia? It ammonia seems to be most likely at, at the moment. Even if, for me, as a chemist working with ammonia is not the most pleasant thing to do. It is very problematic, especially personally, I wouldn't put it on a boat to transport it.'cause if people think that an oil tanker having a, a spill on the beach is bad ammo, ammonia is going to be way, way worse. But that's a, a different subject. Our aim for the hydrogen is at the end to replace all the methane, and my dream is for the UAE to not export methane anymore, but export hydrogen. And we remove all the carbon from the methane here locally inject it in the ultramafic rock and export the hydrogen. And I think that is one of the way of fighting climate change.

Tom Raftery:

Interesting you, there's a, another topic that we should really talk about as well, and that is that there are deposits apparently of hydrogen naturally in the rocks, in your region. Can you talk to me a little bit about that?

Arnaud Lager:

Yes, so. Those rocks, the ultramafic rock, also when they react with water, they produce hydrogen. And we know that in Oman and in the UAE there's about 150 different location where you can see hydrogen bubbling up. And one of our project is to look also for this natural hydrogen. It has never been done in in the UAE before. We are going to be the, the first one to, to do this with our partner RAK Gas here in Ra's al Khaimah . And we hope that the, the reserve of natural hydrogen in this area is as big, if not bigger than all the methane that was already discovered in the UAE. Potentially it is completely game a game changer for the energy stream because the production costs of this hydrogen from what we calculated is below $1 per kilo. So that would be 10 times cheaper than what green hydrogen can do.

Tom Raftery:

Okay. And of course there's no CO2 associated or minimal CO2 associated with the extraction of hydrogen, which is just underground. Are there other places in the world where there are hydrogen to be tapped and extracted and used as well? Or is this an another unique aspect of your local geology?

Arnaud Lager:

No, there is plenty of places around the world that where hydrogen is present. It is quite a bit of an embarrassment for the oil and gas industry because we know about it. We know where it is, but we never really looked for it or even thought of producing it. I mean, the only natural hydrogen reservoir that is producing at the moment is in Mali. And the legend behind this reservoir is an oil industry, an oil company drilled a well, an exploration well to find methane, and they never found methane.

Tom Raftery:

Yeah.

Arnaud Lager:

And because the tools we use to monitor the fluids underground we are looking for carbon and hydrogen, but never just for hydrogen.'cause if we look just for hydrogen only, the water will show up. So we only look for the two signal, carbon and hydrogen. And they saw the hydrogen, didn't see the carbon, so they thought, well it's water. Let's shut the well. And what they did, it's instead of shutting the well, they turned this well into a water well for the local village and the local village at a water well, everything was fine and the legend goes that one evening a shepherd decided to go and have a smoke next to this water well and threw these cigarettes down the well and the well caught fire. And that's how we discovered the hydrogen. I'm not sure it's a hundred percent true, but it's a nice story. And since then the, the well has been producing some hydrogen and the, the local village use hydrogen to produce electricity. So it, it is a, a very nice story and it shows that natural hydrogen exists and it can be exploited commercially. There is some places in France where I'm from, where they've reported some hydrogen reservoir in Colcim. There is in Spain also. But if you look at the literature, there's plenty of other places in in Russia, in Canada, in the US everywhere where we're going to start to look. Seriously, I think we are going to start finding hydrogen.

Tom Raftery:

Wow. And are there any particular difficulties extracting it as opposed to extracting methane, for example? You know, are it, it's a different molecule, so is it more challenging to extract or does it make a difference?

Arnaud Lager:

At the surface it won't be much more challenging because we've been producing hydrogen in oil refinery for a century now, so we know how to handle it in pipes and we know how to store it. Even if to store it at such a big volume is going to be a, a challenge, but it's not a very difficult challenge. On the subsurface side, however, it's, we need to rewrite the rule books on how we can predict how much hydrogen we can produce from our wells. And this is going to be to take some time. Basically it's like going back to the oil and gas industry a hundred years ago. So hopefully it's not going to take us 20 years to learn everything. We can do it a lot more quickly now that we've got computers and the knowledge from the oil industry. But there's still some, some challenge.

Tom Raftery:

Okay. Okay. And where are you in terms of the the production cycle, I guess. So you are just at the very early, stages of figuring out how to sequester the, the CO2 right now. Is that it? And, and you're, you're gonna take from there. So talk me through that process of going from where you are today to where you want to be in 2, 3, 4, 5 years time.

Arnaud Lager:

So our, our plan is, first we need to, to finish the exploration phase. So we, we've already done some exploration where we looked at what is called gravimetric survey where we flew a plane over the mountains to look at magnetic and gravimetric anomalies, which could tell us where a reservoir could be. So we, we've done that. We will do some more tests and then we will start drilling an exploration well where we will drill down to first a kilometer and a half, take some rock samples and see what the rocks looks like. Because it's the type of rocks that the oil industry never really looked into it.'cause we know normally there's no methane, there's no oil in this type of rock. So we never really looked at it. So we will drill our exploration well, see if we can find some hydrogen in a, in a shallow reservoir, so around 1.5 kilometers. And then we will expand it to three kilometers depth. And then we'll see if we can see the hydrogen. If we cannot find hydrogen, then this, well, we will not abandon it. We'll turn it into our CO2 injector. So that's, that is our, our first plan. If there is no natural hydrogen, then we start building our hydrogen plant and CO2 capture in Ra's al Khaimah. And then we will pipe the CO2s that we've captured into, into this well. So it, it is going to be a very, very busy couple of years for us.'cause that is a lot of work to do.

Tom Raftery:

Okay. Okay. And long term, where do you see the company going in terms of a) carbon capture and b), hydrogen production?

Arnaud Lager:

So it will all depends on how successful we are with natural hydrogen. If we are very successful in in the natural hydrogen, then we will need to do what is called appraisal and develop this hydrogen field which would take, if we follow what the oil industry standards are, would take about five to 10 years after discovery. So we, that's also a lot of work. And if we do not find natural hydrogen, then we drill a couple of CO2 injectors. Capture the CO2 from the local industry. Monitor that is being sequestrated properly. And once we know for sure that our plan works perfectly, we can start importing CO2 from other Emirates in the, the UAE and then from abroad. So that our, that is our first phase. Once this is established, we can then start moving to other countries. There's Oman, for example, just across the border here where we could reproduce the same business model and then move to other country where this type of rock is available. Unfortunately, there's not that many and they are not as easily accessible than here in the UAE, but with the knowledge we would gain. Here in the UAE and in Oman, I'm sure we can we can expand to other countries.

Tom Raftery:

Okay. And, what do you think in terms of ultimate, ultimate tons, millions, tons, gigatons, whatever of CO2. What's your long-term aim in terms of CO2 sequestration?

Arnaud Lager:

Well, my. I am hoping that we can sequester everything that we can find, everything that we can capture. So I'm talking about gigatons and gigatons of CO2 per year.'cause that is what we need to do. If we do not sequester 40 billion tons of CO2 per year we are going to end up in a lot of trouble. To give you an example, since 1960s, We have been producing 800 gigatons of CO2 and released it in the atmosphere and every year we are producing 40 billion tons a year, and that is growing nearly exponentially. So my aim is to first curb this 40 billion tons per year that we are emitting. And then go further, go after those 800 billion tons of CO2 that is in the atmosphere and the CO2 sequestration technique that or capture that we're going to use we are going to go with a cryogenic technique. And our aim is not only to capture the CO2 from cement plants, steel plants. But also at the same time, reduce the level of CO2 from the flue gas below the 400 PPM, which is the level where CO2 is at, so that the air that we release in the atmosphere is not only free of the CO2 that we've added from cements or from steel manufacturing, but also removing some of the CO2 that is already present before we add more. So that is our plan. Our first milestone is 3 million tons per year, and then we hope that in 10 years time, we will reach the gigaton per year and then grow from there.

Tom Raftery:

Nice. Nice. And you you mentioned that 800 gigatons is in the atmosphere. Are there, have, have you plans on doing direct air capture or working with direct air capture companies, for example, to, to tackle that 800 gigatons?

Arnaud Lager:

So our technique removes some of the CO2 from, from the atmosphere. But our target at the moment is really to curb the amount of CO2s that we're releasing. For me as an engineer, direct air capture is too early. It's not the way forward. I will give you an example. Our, our plan for our first CO2 capture plant, we are going to treat 8 billion meter cube of air. So, but it's called flue gas. This flue gas contains 20% of CO2 and it's going to cost us about $40 per ton of CO2 to remove the CO2. If we do direct air capture.

Tom Raftery:

Okay.

Arnaud Lager:

And we treat 8 billion to eight 8 billion meter cube of air just to remove 400 ppm of CO2. that will cost us $1,500 per ton. That is my issue with direct air capture. I prefer to go after the concentrated source first than spending money for DAC, where we are. We are adding more CO2 in the atmosphere than DAC could ever curb. So let's go with the concentrated source first, and then once we've cleaned that up, we, and we will have a lot more knowledge on CO2 capture. We can go after dilute sources like direct air, but for me at the moment, I'm going for the concentrated source and, but I'm not stopping anybody who wants to do DAC. It's, it's fine for me. For me, the solution to climate change is, there is no silver bullet, but there's silver buckshot. Anything that reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is good for me.

Tom Raftery:

Nice, nice. Cool. Arnaud we're coming towards the end of the podcast now. Is there any question I haven't asked that you wish I had or any aspect of this we haven't touched on that you think it's important for people to be aware of?

Arnaud Lager:

I would say about the the Guardian's article about carbon offset and the impact that this could have on our project and other other project because that's a sore subject for for me. I have to, to admit.

Tom Raftery:

Sure. Tell Tell me about it.

Arnaud Lager:

Yeah, so the, the Guardian published some articles that prove that most of the carbon offset I'm not going to call it scams, but they are not as efficient as they are reported to to be, and it's, for me, it, it is not surprising at all because when you see the

Tom Raftery:

Yep.

Arnaud Lager:

People were buying carbon offset for two to $3 a ton. You know that this is not physically possible. It does not cost two to$3 to remove a ton of CO2. So you knew that there was something fishy around here. And there's some companies like Vera or Gold, Gold Standards that really need to have a look at what they are doing and need to be a lot more stringent on their process and to vet the CO2 capture processes properly because it is going to hurt us in the at the end, because if people don't trust carbon offset, there's no way somebody is going to give me $50 to remove a ton of CO2. So that is a, a very sore subject for me that I'm glad the Guardian finally said something. Because it is a, a failure of the market, it is a failure of politicians that force people to do something about climate change, about CO2, and there is a void nobody is allow able to provide with such carbon credit. So people will find a way, and this way was those very cheap carbon offset, which were not linked to anything unfortunately.

Tom Raftery:

Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. No, it's a valid point. Yeah, totally get it. Cool. Great. Arnaud, that's been really interesting. If people would like to know more about yourself or any of the things we discussed in the podcast today, where would you have me direct them?

Arnaud Lager:

Well, they, they can contact me on on LinkedIn. You know, I'm more than happy to answer any questions. We have a, a website that is being refurbished at the moment because we've got some big announcement coming. So they can go to our website, which is decahyd ron.com. And as I said, yeah, send me an email, contact me on LinkedIn. I'm happy to answer any questions.

Tom Raftery:

Cool. That's great, Arno. Thanks a million for coming on the podcast today.

Arnaud Lager:

Thank you for me, Tom, and have a good day.

Tom Raftery:

Okay, we've come to the end of the show. Thanks everyone for listening. If you'd like to know more about the Climate Confident podcast, feel free to drop me an email to tomraftery at outlook. com or message me on LinkedIn or Twitter. If you like the show, please don't forget to click follow on it in your podcast application of choice to get new episodes as soon as they're published. Also, please don't forget to rate and review the podcast. It really does help new people to find the show. Thanks. Catch you all next time.

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