Old Is Gold: Biotech Startup Finds Gold Hydrogen in Old Wells

Houston-based startup Cemvita Factory uses its hydrogen-producing microbes downhole to considerably lower the cost of hydrogen production.

Cemvita Factory taps existing oil and gas infrastructure to produce clean hydrogen at $1.00/kg using subsurface microbes.
Source: Cemvita Factory

Houston-based biotechstartup Cemvita Factory has with its Gold Hydrogen project found its very own pot of gold waiting in oil reservoirs ready for plugging and abandonment.

The company’s successful pilot test in the Permian Basin has helped it secure an undisclosed amount of funding through its new Gold H2 LLC subsidiary from investors Chart Industries and 8090 Industries. The Georgia-based manufacturer of gas equipment and New York-based venture capital firm, respectively, are founding investors of the project.

Gold hydrogen is defined by Cemvita as the “biological production of hydrogen in the subsurface through the consumption of trapped or abandoned resources.”

Bioengineered subsurface microbes consume the left-behind carbon to produce clean hydrogen.

It is a novel source of hydrogen produced from depleted oil reservoirs that are ready for plugging and abandonment, extending the life of wells that would otherwise be a significant burden, said Cemvita in a news release.

By tapping existing oil and gas infrastructure, Cemvita can produce clean hydrogen at $1/kg using subsurface microbes.

“We’ve long held a firm belief in the role biology can play in the energy industry,” said Rayyan Islam, co-founder and general partner at 8090 Industries, adding that the company has “incredible conviction” in clean hydrogen production methods that leverage existing infrastructure and the know-how of the oil and gas industry.

“It turns out, this approach leads to the lowest-possible cost of hydrogen production today, and the largest players in the energy and industrial sector have taken serious notice,” he said.

Cemvita said it has set up Gold H2 to commercialize the business via licensing, joint ventures, and outright ownership of hydrogen assets.

“In a very short time frame, we moved our microbes from the lab to the field. The hydrogen production in this trial exceeded our expectations,” said Zach Broussard, director of Gold H2 at Cemvita.

“As we continue to use hydrogen-producing microbes downhole, we anticipate we can achieve rates that will translate to hydrogen production at $1/kg or less.”

Traditional methods of producing hydrogen without greenhouse-gas emissions, known as green hydrogen, include electrolysis powered by renewable sources such as wind, solar, or hydro, according to Cemvita.

Green hydrogen production, however, is energy intensive and expensive. According to a report from S&P Global Commodity Insights, “the cost of electrolytic hydrogen from renewable energy spiked as high as $16.80/kg in late July [2022],” the startup said.

Cemvita, however, will use existing infrastructure for thousands of depleted oil and gas wells to produce carbon-free hydrogen.

“The commercialization and economics of the hydrogen economy will require technologies that produce the hydrogen molecule at a meaningful scale with no carbon emissions. Gold H2 is leading the charge, and we are thrilled with the results of their successful field trial,” said Jill Evanko, Chart Industry’s CEO and president.