Energy Transition

White hydrogen can be a game-changer in Colombia's green transition. Here's why

The focus on white hydrogen offers exciting opportunities for the country, opening the door to a more sustainable transition.

The focus on white hydrogen offers exciting opportunities for the country, opening the door to a more sustainable transition. Image: Pexels/ Kindel Media

Ricardo Roa Barragán
CEO, Ecopetrol
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Energy Transition

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting
  • Hydrogen, a game-changer in the global energy transition, holds the promise of diversifying towards low‐carbon energy.
  • Colombia, committed to the energy transition and carbon neutrality by 2050, has crafted a set of public policies with hydrogen being a key component to achieve this goal.
  • Recent studies by Ecopetrol in Colombia indicate large concentrations of white hydrogen across the Llanos basin.

Hydrogen, a game-changer in the global energy transition, holds the promise of diversifying towards low‐carbon energy. According to McKinsey, from now through 2050, hydrogen can avoid 80 gigatons (GT) of cumulative CO2 emissions. With an annual abatement potential of 7 GT in 2050, hydrogen can contribute 20% of the total abatement needed in 2050. This requires the use of 660 million metric tonnes (MT) of renewable and low-carbon hydrogen in 2050, equivalent to 22% of the global final energy demand.

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Colombia, committed to the energy transition and carbon neutrality by 2050, has crafted a set of public policies with hydrogen being a key component to achieve this goal. A national hydrogen roadmap was designed setting key targets for 2030: i) installing 1 to 3 GW of electrolyzer capacity; ii) investments of USD 2.5 bn to USD 5.5 bn; and iii) creation of 7,000 to 15,000 jobs. The government has also expressed strong support for low-carbon hydrogen by enacting the Energy Transition Law 2099 of 2021, which granted the benefits of Law 1715 of 2014 (on renewable energies) to low-emission hydrogen projects.

Low‐carbon hydrogen is a key part of Ecopetrol Group's strategic plan, aligned with its strategic vision of driving growth, promoting business diversification and contributing to sustainability goals and the national decarbonisation plan. The aim is to achieve an annual production of one million tons of low-emission H2 by 2040, with white hydrogen as one of the promising resources in the portfolio.

White hydrogen is a naturally-occurring gas generated in specific geological settings. In Colombia, recent subsurface studies show positive indicators of the presence of this resource. The focus on white hydrogen offers exciting opportunities for the country, opening the door to a more sustainable transition.

A game-changer in the energy transition

The search for sources of naturally occurring, or white, hydrogen in Colombia follows a recent increase in global research, which revealed significant concentrations of this energy resource in several geological provinces. The boom of white hydrogen started in Bourakébougou, Mali, a white hydrogen field discovered over ten years ago, with more than 20 wells drilled and an accumulation generating energy for the entire off-the-grid population.

In recent studies carried out in Colombia by Ecopetrol, concentrations of up to 40,000 parts per million (ppm) have been found in the gas chromatography analysis. These values are of the same order of magnitude as the Bourakébougou

case.

Among the evident benefits of exploring white hydrogen are: the cost of under one dollar per kg, estimated to be twice to 10 times lower than hydrogen produced from other sources (water or fossil fuels); zero CO2 emissions as it is already available under the surface; no water required for production; and the fact that it could be found in off‐the‐grid areas, supporting in-situ natural solutions to leverage a fair energy transition, benefit local communities or support Ecopetro's off-the-grid operations.

Ecopetrol's exploration during 2023 confirmed the presence of white hydrogen seepage in exploration and production blocks. Those are promising results which indicate potential for Colombia and add value to co-existence projects in blocks operated by Ecopetrol Group.

Ecopetrol team analysing and sampling surface gases.
Ecopetrol team analysing and sampling surface gases. Image: Ecopetrol

Unlocking the potential of white hydrogen

In Colombia, Ecopetrol Group is moving forward by detecting the first signs of the presence of white hydrogen in Ecopetrol-operated blocks, integrating subsurface data acquired during years of hydrocarbon exploration. The evidence was reported in the Llanos Orientales basin and the Caguán-Putumayo basin in 2022 and 2023.

White hydrogen studies in Colombia are still at an early stage, with the identification of promising areas and the application of innovative methodologies. This work is accompanied by a strong regulatory signal issued by the Ministry of Mines and Energy through Decree 2235 of 2023, which frames white hydrogen as a source of renewable energy, paving the way for the regulation of white hydrogen evaluation, exploration and development projects, within the framework of its Fair Energy Transition policy.

As we progress in 2024, Ecopetrol Group remains focused on advancing studies targeting technically and economically viable accumulations and developing low‐emission hydrogen as a key part of its corporate goals, leading Colombia's journey towards a sustainable energy future.

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