Prospectors hit the gas in the hunt for ‘white hydrogen’

For more than a decade, the village of Bourakébougou in western Mali has been powered by a clean energy phenomenon that may soon sweep the globe.

The story begins with a cigarette. In 1987, a failed attempt to drill for water released a stream of odourless gas that one unlucky smoker discovered to be highly flammable. The well was quickly plugged and forgotten. But almost 20 years later, drillers on the hunt for fossil fuels confirmed the accidental discovery: hundreds of feet below the arid earth of west Africa lies an abundance of naturally occurring, or “white”, hydrogen.

Today, it is used to generate green electricity for Bourakébougou’s homes and shops. But geologists believe that untapped reservoirs of white hydrogen in the US, Australia and parts of Europe have the potential to provide the world with clean energy on a far greater scale.