Photography by Randy Olson
Published March 24, 2009
The world's largest dead zone may be chock-full of life-sustaining energy, a new study says.
The Black Sea, an isolated inland sea in Eastern Europe, has been devoid of life—except for a species of hardy "extremophile" bacteria—for decades due to pollution carried by rivers.
The influx of toxic waste from 17 European countries has contributed to a decline in oxygen in the water. This in turn has created high concentrations of hydrogen sulfide gas in the sea.
(Take our Dirty Dozen pollution quiz.)
But if hydrogen could be harvested from this poisonous gas, it could mean a new form of clean energy for Europe, researchers say.
"We need clean energy, and we have a pollution problem," said study co-author Mehmet Haklidir of the Tübitak Marmara Research Center in Gebze-Kocaeli, Turkey.
Taking hydrogen from the contaminated sea can both be a renewable source of energy and combat pollution, Haklidir said.
Though the research is still in its early stages, Haklidir and co-author Füsun Servin Tut Haklidir suggest that scientists could separate hydrogen from the hydrogen sulfide via several potential processes, including thermal, electrochemical, or photochemical.
In thermal decomposition—the most direct process—scientists could use temperatures of about 1,472 to 2,732 degrees Fahrenheit (800 to 1500 degrees Celsius) to remove the hydrogen.
As for storage, the gas could be kept naturally in underground caves, which are plentiful in Turkey's Black Sea region. (See cave pictures.)
Kizilelma Cave, the second longest cave in Turkey, should be investigated for possible leakage gaps, the authors say. If none are found, the cave could be suitable for storing gas.
"We hope that researchers work and study this kind of energy system to develop [the] technology," Servin Tut Haklidir said.
Findings detailed in the International Journal of Nuclear Hydrogen Production and Applications.
Recent Energy News
Lake Michigan's S.S. Badger has drawn criticism for its coal pollution, but the venerable ship is aiming to clean up its act.
The oil boom has brought new earning prospects to the families who come to Montana, but there's a flip side in the form of housing shortages and crime.
A subtle clarification on oil export policy might have major implications for producers in Texas.
The Big Energy Question
Join the debate over whether we should view natural gas as a transitional fuel that eventually gives way to renewables, or whether it is blocking the way forward.
From better mass transit to a stronger mix of renewable energy, what is the most important thing we can do to make cities smarter when it comes to energy use?
As shipping and energy activity increase in the region, what do we urgently need to learn more about? Vote and comment on the list.
The Great Energy Challenge
The Great Energy Challenge is an important National Geographic initiative designed to help all of us better understand the breadth and depth of our current energy situation.