Energy Pipeline: Greeley man spends life chasing the dream of hydrogen drilling

4/3/2017

Greeley Tribune- In 1956, Greeley resident Charlie Odendhal started working with a Shell Oil and Gas metallurgical team that focused on preventing hydrogen embrittlement in the field. In the process of drilling for oil and gas, hydrogen would get into the drill bits, causing them to break. Shell would just cap the hydrogen vents and move on with the operation. Today, 61 years later, Odendhal — along with a small team of international scientists — is on a mission to drill and capture that hydrogen Shell so easily dismissed. The hydrogen would be used to create ammonia, which would then be used to make fertilizer for farming. 

Odendhal believes he has found hydrogen vents in Weld County, but he has not been able to gain the permitting to do so. He's hoping plans for drilling for hydrogen in Nebraska, where he does have a permit, will convince the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to approve his plans.

Odendhal sources the hydrogen from the Earth's mantle, just below the crust. "There, hydrogen atoms can reside inside other molecules and effuse as molecular hydrogen when under the stress of the Moon's gravity: Earth tides," Odendhal explained in an email. "I really don't know if Earth has a hydrogen core, possibly some hydride compound, but a hot iron core is doubtful. No one knows for sure about Earth's core."

He stands with a small group of thinkers who believe the Earth's core is made up of cool hydrogen, instead of hot iron, which is usually taught in academic settings. When Odendhal was working on his geology degree, several professors of his agreed with the hydrogen-core hypothesis, he said, but they suggested he keep quiet for fear of reprisal. He switched to studying geography.

Chasing ideas off the beaten path is a common thread in Odendhal's life. After about two years of working with Shell, he went on to help the Air Force understand why plane engines were suddenly exploding. He launched his own research company and even testified before Congress about hydrogen being the culprit, said Odendhal. Ultimately though, he was brushed off and Odendhal moved on to work in the auto industry, Afterward, he bought and sold defunct gold mines (at one point Odendhal owned 23 gold mines).

Over his lifetime, Odendhal's theories and studies on hydrogen have largely been dismissed by mainstream, Western geology and academia. However, if he is successful, Odendhal says how we view energy and the earth's formation could change drastically.

Odendhal's team, which makes up Natural Hydrogen Energy Ltd., has explored in Russia and Africa. They've found the United States' geopolitical climate to be best suited for their operations, specifically Nebraska, where Odendhal has a permit to drill down 11,000 feet. 

"Personally, I like to see holes drilled in the ground because you learn more about your geology," said Bill Sydow, director Nebraska's Oil and Gas Commission. "I find in, let's say, Western civilization. . . we think we know everything. Well we don't. … This is outside-the-box thinking and I think we need to encourage ideas like that," continues Sydow regarding Odendhal's mission. However, Odendhal's operations has come to a halt due to complications that his group's Russian investor has encountered.

We contacted the Colorado School of Mines hoping to find someone to talk on Odendhal's ideas. However, it was challenging to find much information. An associate professor in the chemical and biological engineering department, Jennifer Wilcox, refers to a 2002 article about hydrothermal vents in the mid-Atlantic Ridge producing large amounts of hydrogen and methane due to a chemical reaction with olivine, a mineral found in many basin igneous rocks. 

If the areas Odendhal says are producing hydrogen contain olivine, Wilcox said, "One might hypothesize a similar mechanism of H2 production in Weld County, provided there are olivine deposits present. Once the geology of the region is known and quantified, one could then estimate how much H2 production may be possible and if these sources are at all significant."

Odendhall took some time to talk with Energy Pipeline Magazine about his hydrogen drilling endeavors, how he got here, what he plans on doing with the hydrogen, and how he's used to being called crazy.

Energy Pipeline — Now you have moved on focusing on drilling and capturing hydrogen, how did you get into that?

CharIie Odendhal — I wrote a paper in 1978 that this should be done, because when I worked for Shell all they would do was cap the wells. The hydrogen gets into the metal and breaks up the drill equipment, so they didn't want to deal with it. I don't blame them. They ended up being very impressed by hydrogen. So, later on in life I did other things. But I always had this thing in the back of mind: Instead of capping these wells, why don't we recover the hydrogen using some specialized equipment, like polypropylene-lined pipe and things of that nature, stainless-steel fittings, for instance? So, I write this paper in '78, nothing came of it. It was dead in the water. Recently, a gentlemen in Calgary, Canada, who was writing about hydrogen down in the earth, he had a book written by Vladimir Larin who wrote the book "Hydridic Earth: the New Geology of Our Primordially Hydrogen-rich Planet" in [1993] and hydrogen is constantly coming up. We got together and then we found another gentleman, Frank Wilson, who was a former Naval officer, then we found a gentleman down in Australia. Now, all of us pretty much independently came to the conclusion that the Earth has a core of hydrogen. None of us had the money or the resources or experience to drill a well, because, you know, well drilling is pretty heavy-duty. So along comes this Russian who runs casinos in Cypress and he says, "I think this is a great idea. I'll finance it." In 2013 we formed a company — I'm running the company … to drill for hydrogen. … These hydrogen vents are the same as the craters on the moon. 

EP — You talked briefly about the exploration process. You started in Russia, but because of the geopolitical climate, it wasn't really conducive. Where did you go from there?

CO — Oman, which is in Africa. We found lots of hydrogen vents there. But, the situation was starting to deteriorate, rather rapidly I may add, so we got out of there. We went to Mali and — I wasn't in with this group at that time. Another group went to Mali. They drilled a vent in Mali and found hydrogen, and they used the hydrogen to run the electric motors to power the village that was built around the oasis. And the funny part is that they asked the guy in charge, "What do you want to do with this?" He said I know want to make ice cream. So they brought in an ice cream maker and made ice cream. It's running right now, the hydrogen is coming up, it goes into this motor, the motor runs the electric power to the village, it pumps the water, powers the village — first time they had electricity. Now the government of Mali decided to do 10 of these and then they canceled the whole thing because of uneasiness. So we're saying, what are we going to do? We had somebody drill a well so we know it works. So, we came to the United States. We tried the Carolinas. We tested about 33 of them and they're just pouring, 50 tons a day of hydrogen is coming out of them. For the last two years we've been fighting the environmentalists. …I tried Colorado by the way, first. Colorado said we have all these restrictions and I virtually have to have a legal staff to drill in Colorado. I went to Nebraska and bam, I got a permit. My Russian investor last fall calls up and says I'm tied up in a major lawsuit. I can't come up with the funds right now. So I'm dead in the water. That's where I am right now. We've got permits. We took care of the core of engineers. We took care of the wildlife department. We took care of Ducks Unlimited. We got all these people straightened out. Fillmore county says great come on up. We've got a pipeline on the property. Everything seemed like it was ready to go" until the funding was locked up.

EP — Are you able to talk about the process between drilling, capturing and getting it to market?

CO — If we drill for hydrogen we have to use special equipment, of course. That's what I did at Shell Oil; I looked at equipment that broke up. We were all set to go on that as far as equipment goes. We have contractors who are experienced with hydrogen and things of that nature. We are pretty set up so we can drill an on-site gas well. Just ordinary natural gas well with some high-tech fittings. So we're ready for that. The rig that we had lined up, which is right in the area, is a big aluminum special rig that would take a long drill stem, because it weighs a lot. The land owner was ready for it, everybody else is ready for it. If, big if, we actually find the vent, which comes up like a funnel. It spreads out over the land. There might be 20,000 acres of hydrogen vent area showing hydrogen, but there's only going to be a very few acres, maybe even a few feet where the vent is, that's the big if … practically, we have to hit the bullseye.

EP — You've come into a lot of roadblocks since you've gotten into this and you have even been told you're crazy.

CO — Oh yeah. I'm use to it. Crazy Charlie. [In '78] when I pointed that out the craters of the moon were exactly the same as the Carolina Bays in North Carolina, people went nuts. 

EP — Once you capture the hydrogen, what are your plans with it?

CO — Geneva, Neb., to an ammonia plant. I've contacted them up there and they're all ready for it. The plant will combine hydrogen and nitrogen into anhydrous ammonia, a type of fertilizer in high demand by farmers. We expect to greatly reduce the cost of production by providing natural hydrogen directly instead of the plant having to make hydrogen by a somewhat costly reduction of natural gas, which has pollution problems that we will not have with hydrogen from a well.

EP — Hydrogen can also be a very clean energy source. Any plans to use it for that?

CO — No. hydrogen is too difficult to transport. It goes right through the walls of the pipeline unless you have it coated, and a coated pipeline is expensive, as you can imagine. So hydrogen is still going to be supplied to cars through hydrolysis. They'll take a wind power, or whatever, and they'll take a filling station and they'll take electricity to a filling station, put water in the filling station and out comes hydrogen. That's pretty expensive. However, if they convert it immediately to ammonia, like basically our wellhead — we're going to be right there — we'll turn the hydrogen into ammonia very quickly. You can truck ammonia, they can pipeline ammonia and there's an ammonia pipeline up there in Nebraska. So, we're going to pipeline the ammonia and you can use the ammonia for fertilizer and fuel for that matter … Ammonia and hydrous ammonia is the third-most produced product in the world and there are ammonia plants all over the place. There are farmers all over the place. So that's the idea is to convert it into ammonia and sell it as fertilizer. That'll keep me happy. We're talking $2 million a month or something like that, before expenses. That's if we find the vent. If we miss it slightly, we're maybe down to three tons a day instead of 10 tons a day because it comes up like a funnel, and I don't know where the tip of that funnel is because it's either 3,000 or 15,000 feet down. We don't know where it necks up. It could rise in a fracture … and come up along that fracture and then when it hits sedimentary rock, it could spread out there. We don't know where that is — that's the big if. 

EP — What do you think the ramifications of this are?

CO — I've been harboring it for quite a few years, hoping something will come up. It'll change the whole structure of the energy field if we can capture as much as possible. The German satellites were in 1990, but they were the first true evidence of how much is escaping and they only got a small part of it because their orbit went in and out of the hydrogen that's venting. They were in polar orbit, and the hydrogen can be photographed disappearing off like a … trail to the orbit of the moon. The hydrogen that is escaping from earth can be seen in false-color photographs from Skylab to the orbit of the moon. So we have a tremendous amount of hydrogen escaping, and I'd like to capture it.

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