The problem with the idea of a hydrogen economy — migrating our energy infrastructure from fossil fuels to clean-burning hydrogen — has always been the expense of its production. While there's no shortage of hydrogen on the planet, it requires energy to liberate the gas from its plentiful state in seawater. Finding an economical source of hydrogen would add an important tool to the new century's clean tech energy portfolio.

Part of the answer may lie some 200 meters beneath the surface of the Black Sea. Scientists have long studied a deep layer of hydrogen sulfide below the nearly land-locked sea. Hydrogen sulfide is a poisonous gas with the smell of rotten eggs. Its presence in such large quantities results from organic runoff being trapped between permanent layers of salty water from the Mediterranean and inflowing river water — a situation that may represent a long-term hazard to the millions who live in the region.

Pollution as a resource

But now Turkish researchers are eyeing this pollution as a possible energy resource. Scientists at the TUBITAK Marmara Research Center in Gebze-Kocaeli are investigating ways to process the hydrogen sulfide, splitting it into pure hydrogen and marketable sulphur resides.

It's comparatively easier to break apart hydrogen sulfide than water. A forthcoming whitepaper in the International Journal of Nuclear Hydrogen Production and Applications suggests that it may be possible to produce up to 500 tons of fuel hydrogen from the over 10,000 tons of hydrogen sulphide entering the Black Sea each day. To further green the deal, solar power would be used to power the process.

If commercially viable, the solution would provide a double benefit: reducing the risk of catastrophe from upwelling hydrogen sulfide gas, while tapping a large scale, fully renewable energy source.

This article originally appeared on Lighter Footstep in March 2009.

Copyright Lighter Footstep 2009

Harvesting Black Sea pollution to produce energy
Scientists may be able to split the deep, thick layer of hydrogen sulfide under the sea to a form usable as an alternative, renewable energy source.