Story of Bourakébougou a town where natural hydrogen found
While the European Union, China and the US outdo each other as to who will provide the world with the best electrolyzers for hydrogen production, the deposits of this clean and renewable element lie underground, like oil or coal.
Journalist Eric Hand describes the story of the discovery of pure hydrogen deposits for Science in Bourakébougou. It was first observed by the citizens of Mali, who lived in the town of Bourakébougou. Mamadou Ngulo Konaré described the unusual phenomena that he and his neighbours saw in his neighbourhood with great precision and insight.
The second person directly involved in the discovery was Denis Briere, a petrophysicist and vice president at Chapman Petroleum Engineering, in 2012.
Drilling for water to natural hydrogen
Eric Hand quoted a story about how in 1987 a team engaged in drilling wells came to the village of Bourakébougou, Mali to drill for water. After the first drilling, they did not find water but had given up a dry well at a depth of 108 meters.
Denis Brièrewent on to tell how one of the drilling crew had bent over the well with a lit cigarette in his mouth. The wind exploded in his face. “He survived, but burned,” continued the resident of Bourakébougou.
He continued: “Meanwhile, there was a fire in the village. It lasted many, many days. During the day, the fire looked like blue sparkling water. There was no black smoke in it. At night, it shone like goldand gave such brightness that we could easily see each other” – it must have been a beautiful spectacle. Unfortunately, it could also be doomed. “Our village could have been destroyed. We were terrified,” concluded Mamadou Ngulo Konaré.
The rescue crew battled the fire for weeks. In the end, he managed to control it and stop the unfortunate (or maybe not so unfortunate, which will be discussed later) well.
The tamed hydrogen lay underground for the next few years, imposing itself on no one. Until 2007, when Aliou Diallo, a wealthy Malian businessman and president of the oil and gas company Petroma, entered the scene.
He had good intuition. It was in that year that he acquired the right to explore for deposits in the region surrounding Bourakébougou. It was on his initiative that the conversation between Denis Brière and Mamadou Ngulo Konaré took place.
In search of underground treasure
In 2012, Diallo signed a contract with Chapman Petroleum, whose task was to determine what was coming out of the well. This agreement was followed by a meeting between the people of Bourakébougou and the team hired by Petroma.
And the memorable conversation between Mamadou Ngulo Konaré and Denis Brière, which, according to some, gave the world a chance to support in the fight against the already rolling and impending cataclysms.
Denis Brière’s team began investigating and determined that the well was producing gas consisting of 98 per cent hydrogen. It was a shock. So far, this element has almost never appeared during the extraction of other raw materials.
He was thought not to exist at all. Although there were those who believed in this Holy Grail of the raw materials industry.
In 2018, after the Diallo team described the discovery in Bourakébougou in the ‘International Journal of Hydrogen‘ (the main author of the publication is Alain Prinzhofer, scientific director of the Brazilian company GEO4U, providing services to the oil and gas industry), publications on natural hydrogen began to appear at an exponential rate.
The subject was of great interest to startups, especially Australian ones, which began to apply for the rights to search for the element underground. Among them are e.g. Natural Hydrogen Energy, which in 2019 in the USA, specifically in Nebraska, completed its first hydrogen drilling.
In 2022, the American Society of Petroleum Geologists created a special committee to deal with natural hydrogen. And the USGS (United States Geological Survey), under the authority of the United States Department of the Interior, has taken action to identify where in the US it is best to produce this element.
Who discovers natural hydrogen in Bourakébougou?
Mamadou Ngulo Konaré is a Malian farmer and herder who discovered natural hydrogen in the village of Bourakébougou, Mali, in 1987.
Konaré first noticed the gas bubbles emerging from a local stream and caught the attention of a French geologist, who confirmed that it was indeed hydrogen.
The Konaré discovery generated increased interest in the natural hydrogen reserves at Bourakébougou and in the potential of this resource as a clean and sustainable energy source. Konaré himself became a local hero and a street in Bourakébougou was named after him.
Bourakébougou town history
Bourakébougou is a small town located in Mali, which is a landlocked country in West Africa. It is located approximately 60 kilometres south of the capital city of Bamako.
The town is home to a population of around 4,000 people and is primarily an agricultural community, with many residents working in subsistence farming.
The history of the city is closely linked to the history of Mali as a whole. Mali has a rich history dating back thousands of years, and the region is home to several ancient empires, including the Mali Empire, which reached its height in the 14th century.
During the colonial period, Mali was ruled by France and Bourakébougou was no exception. The town was a small farming community, with many residents working in subsistence farming.
The discovery of natural hydrogen in Bourakébougou attracted attention from researchers and investors interested in exploring the potential of this resource as a source of clean and sustainable energy.
Since then, Bourakébougou has become a hub for research and innovation in the field of renewable energy, and a pilot plant was built in the town to extract and study the natural hydrogen.
However, it is worth noting that Mali has faced several challenges in recent years, including political instability, terrorism, and economic difficulties. These challenges have affected many aspects of life in Mali, including its energy sector.
Life of villagers Changed
Within months of discovering the deposits, Denis Brière’s team installed a Ford engine in the village and tuned it to run on hydrogen. The side effect of this process was not poisonous fumes, but water. The villagers finally got electricity.
Among the unobvious benefits that resulted from this, we can mention the better results of students who, thanks to artificial lighting, gained more opportunities to learn. Aliou Diallo himself renamed Petroma to Hydroma, changing the company’s profile from oil and gas to hydrogen.
For Bourakébougou, natural hydrogen was a curse turned to bless. For the world, if handled wisely, it may just be the latter.
Its main advantage
The natural hydrogen found in Bourakébougou has several advantages over other forms of energy. Of course, zero emissions, which means that in the era of an increasingly desperate fight against global warming, we pin high hopes on this element.
However, there is a problem. Hydrogen as such is already used in industry, but its production uses highly polluting fossil fuels or very expensive (until now) renewable electricity. Natural hydrogen, if its underground deposits turn out to be as large as scientists predict, will help solve this problem.
The development of methods for its processing would also be a step towards the independence of Russian natural gas, which is one of the most important targets of world economies in the era of the war in Ukraine.
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