45-8 Energy Pioneers Helium and Natural Hydrogen Exploration

April 26, 2024

In this interview, Benoît Hauville, Co-founder and Managing Director of 45-8 ENERGY, tells us about helium and natural hydrogen exploration and production. He discusses the activities of 45-8 ENERGY in this domain and describes its use of AspenTech Subsurface Science & Engineering solutions. 45-8 ENERGY is a French company pioneering helium and natural hydrogen exploration and production in Europe.


How did 45-8 ENERGY begin?

We are two college friends and former colleagues who wanted to use our knowledge of subsurface exploration for resources that are more ecological and related to the energy transition. Our background in the oil and gas industry has provided us with operational expertise in understanding subsurface geology as well as drilling and production techniques. We were certain that these skills could be applicable to other fields. We were supported by three minority partners bringing key complementary skills that could not be staffed at early stage (economics, finance or legal). We all wanted to play an active role in the energy transition while also satisfying our desire for an entrepreneurial project.

We decided to take a deeper look at natural hydrogen after reading rare scientific papers about it. At the time, hydrogen was not yet a mainstream topic - natural hydrogen still appeared to be a scientific curiosity. We did a lot of research and saw its potential as a long-term energy alternative, despite the challenges inherent in its production.

At the same time, aware of the need for more immediate action, we explored other avenues. The discovery of a global shortage of helium first came to our attention in a newspaper article about the inability to inflate balloons at Disneyland Tokyo. This led us to learn more about this resource, which is exclusively produced by extraction from the subsurface. We understood its importance and identified a potential market for helium on the European continent, which motivated our commitment to this promising sector. Adding to the excitement, we discovered that in several geological contexts, helium and hydrogen could be encountered together.

What is helium used for?

Helium is used in a variety of industries, including electronics manufacturing, medicine and aerospace. Over the past decade, the demand for helium has increased dramatically, leading to a global shortage. Currently, Europe relies on imports from the US and Qatar, leading to high energy costs due to energy-intensive liquefaction and transportation processes. 45-8 ENERGY aims to minimize helium’s energy and carbon footprint by promoting local sourcing, thus reducing the distance between the production and consumption locations.

Where does the name 45-8 ENERGY come from?

First of all, it reflects our ambition to target mainly the European market. The coordinates 45 latitude and 8 longitude represent the geographical center of Europe, which is the core of our business. Additionally, it's a nod to our educational backgrounds; studying near Paris, we did our first geological field descriptions in the Lutetian geological formation, which originated precisely 45.8 million years ago.

How many employees does 45-8 ENERGY have today?

Since 2018, 45-8 has grown steadily. Our team currently has  more than 30 employees, of whom about a third are geoscientists who use the AspenTech Subsurface Science & Exploration (SSE) suite as part of their exploration and production activities.

What is your strategy to meet the challenges of the ecological and energy transition?

Our strategy is multi-focused. First, we favor what we call "co-valuations" where we not only focus on a specific resource but we’re also interested in co-products that are frequently overlooked. For example, when exploring for helium or hydrogen, we can often encounter a small fraction of components such as methane or CO2 and find uses for them. Methane, for instance, can  be converted into hydrogen by steam reforming or pyrolysis.CO2 can be purified and used by industries that need it, or be mixed with slags to turn it into artificial limestone . Our team includes process engineers responsible for designing innovative methods to process all elements of the resources extracted from the subsurface. Each of our projects is unique and requires its own approach.

Second, we strive for short supply chains. This reduces conditioning and transport constraints for helium and hydrogen, thereby minimizing our carbon footprint. Shorter distances can notably decrease greenhouse gas emissions compared to importing these gases from abroad.

Finally, we are committed to low-carbon solutions. For each project, we perform a carbon life cycle analysis to assess the environmental impact of the resource produced over its entire lifespan. This has allowed us to show that the helium produced in our projects has a significantly lower carbon footprint than imported helium, with emission reductions of up to five times.

Could you elaborate on the similarities between your exploration and production activities and those of oil exploration and production?

Our exploration and production activities have many similarities with the oil industry, allowing us to apply the methods and know-how of the oil industry to the exploration and production of helium and natural hydrogen.

We seek source rocks rich in uranium and thorium for helium, or neo-oxidized iron for hydrogen. Like oil exploration, we also identify reservoir rocks with trapping systems to retain these elements.

Many of the tools used by the oil industry can be adapted to our exploration and production activities. We use techniques such as seismic reflection, electrical tomography and gravimetry to image and understand the subsurface. In addition, we collect drilling data and combine it with information from past exploration reports. All this data needs to be interpreted and integrated into a common digital subsurface environment, which is made possible by geoscience technologies like those offered by AspenTech. These applications were originally developed for the oil and gas industry, but they are applicable to our business. Adapting reservoir simulation tools is more complex due to the different thermodynamic characteristics of helium and hydrogen compared to hydrocarbons. In this context, we are optimistic about our relationship with AspenTech, which is interested in the topic of natural hydrogen and is sensitive to our needs.

How do you use the AspenTech Subsurface Science and Engineering solutions?

Our software needs cover the entire process, from exploration to production, and from seismic interpretation to geological modeling, drilling engineering, dynamic simulation, and finally surface process simulation.

As a smaller player in subsurface resource exploration, our budget constraints make access to a comprehensive geoscience software suite challenging. That's why AspenTech's token-based licensing system is so interesting to us. Tokens grant access to the entire SSE suite, accommodating our evolving technological needs without the inefficiency and expense of purchasing individual licenses for each software component. This modern approach enables better expense control, particularly suited to our company's activity, which is subject to significant monthly fluctuations. We are grateful to AspenTech for this initiative, which meets our specific technical needs.

Currently, we rely heavily on Aspen SeisEarth™ and Aspen SKUA™ in our early exploration programs. Aspen SeisEarth facilitates seismic data interpretation and volumetric prospect evaluation, while Aspen SKUA integrates diverse data types into a unified environment, simplifying our workflow. The flexibility of Aspen SKUA allows seamless integration of digitized reports, enhancing data clarity and analysis. Both Aspen SeisEarth and Aspen SKUA are instrumental in creating maps, calculating volumes, and planning future well locations, and their 2D and 3D visualization capabilities aid communication with partners and with the press.

As our technology needs evolve, we anticipate using petrophysics tools for log analysis, seismic interpretation applications for new data interpretation, geological modeling techniques for updating 3D models, and Aspen Tempest™ to predict production and reservoir dynamics.

Where are you in your exploration projects? 

We have two helium exploration and production licenses in France, one in the Nièvre region and the other in the Doubs region. We also have licenses pending for the exploration of natural hydrogen in southwestern France. Natural hydrogen was added to the mining code last year in France, so it is now possible to make specific requests for natural hydrogen exploration. We also have two exploration licenses abroad, in eastern Germany and in Kosovo.

Helium production in the Nièvre region is expected to begin in the summer of 2024, a first in France and Western Europe. The only helium production in Europe today is in Poland and this represents less than 1% of European needs. For our projects in Germany, we expect production to start as early as 2026.


AspenTech Subsurface Science & Engineering is dedicated to aiding stakeholders in the ecological and energy transition through innovative and advanced-science technologies aimed at streamlining workflows, optimizing subsurface resource management, and improving decision making.

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