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Greener, more efficient process developed to produce hydrogen from natural gas

By

May 17, 2011

Dr. Mohamed Halabi, with his lab setup for performing sorption enhanced catalytic reformin...

Dr. Mohamed Halabi, with his lab setup for performing sorption enhanced catalytic reforming of methane (Photo: Bart van Overbeeke)

Hydrogen is certainly one of the big candidates when it comes to finding cleaner fuels to replace petroleum. While it only produces water when burnt as fuel, the process of obtaining hydrogen from natural gas is not quite so eco-friendly – it consumes a lot of energy, and creates carbon dioxide. Now a new process being developed at the Netherlands' Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) promises a much more efficient, innocuous alternative.

Traditionally, a process known as "steam reforming" is used to produce hydrogen from natural gas. It requires pressures as high as 25 bar (363 psi) and temperatures up to 850 C (1562 F), while also incorporating multistage subsequent separation and purification units. In the post-processing phase, large amounts of CO2 either must be dealt with, or are released into the atmosphere.

TU/e's Dr. Mohamed Halabi has created a system called "sorption enhanced catalytic reforming of methane," which uses unique catalyst/sorbent materials instead of steam reforming. The process takes place in a packed bed reactor, with hydrogen being produced on the Rhodium-based catalyst, and the cogenerated CO2 then being absorbed by the Hydrotalcite-based sorbent. This keeps the carbon from escaping into the environment, and results in "high-purity" hydrogen with carbon impurities of less than 100 parts-per-million.

The system's fuel conversion efficiency has been measured at 99.5 percent.

Energy requirements for the technology are relatively low, as temperatures need only be between 400 and 500 C (752-932 F), with a pressure of 4.5 bar (65 psi). Additionally, reactors utilizing the process could be much smaller than those presently in use, to the point that Halabi is envisioning systems that could be used in businesses or homes.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
11 Comments

We read, "the cogenerated CO2 then being absorbed by the Hydrotalcite-based sorbent."

So then what happens to it? This sounds like gold-plated sequestration.

CliffG
17th May, 2011 @ 06:58 am PDT

Why not just plant a tree?

PeetEngineer
17th May, 2011 @ 07:22 am PDT

Apparently, the "sorbent" is, for example K2CO3. This should be a boon to such potassium sources as Saskatchewan. Who knows what they will do with the contaminated K2CO3.

Brillig
17th May, 2011 @ 07:52 am PDT

Unfortunately you almost lost me as a reader by repeating the same old lie. Hydrogen only produces pure water as the product of combustion if it burns in pure oxygen. Burn it in air instead and you also get NOx, lots of NOx. The value(s) of x in NOx depends on the temperature and conditions of burn.

Burn it in an Internal Combustion engine, without some serious controls and water injection and you get more and more dangerous NOx than when burning gasoline.

The problem with water injection is it doesn`t work in Winter, you can`t inject ice.

rdinning
17th May, 2011 @ 02:00 pm PDT

Try a fuel cell or an External combustion engine. Neither one produces the NOx that an internal combustion engine does. Updated Sterling engines anyone?

Bob Pegram
17th May, 2011 @ 06:46 pm PDT

Hmmm, has anyone missed the fact that temperatures inside solar furnaces can be anywhere from 600 degrees C up to almost 4000 degrees C? Not much CO2 produced from that process-except what you get from the decomposition of Methane. Of course, if you use the Hydrogen & CO2 as a energy storage medium, then you simply re-react the hydrogen & CO2 to get CH4 & heat back.

Aussie_Renewable
17th May, 2011 @ 07:54 pm PDT

The shame of it is that methane is a far better fuel than hydrogen, being both more energy dense, and easier to liquefy. With all of the proven fraud, mistakes, and predictions that have failed to come true, all claims of AGW, and ACC should be laughed at.

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rdinning - May 17, 2011 @ 02:00 pm PDT

The problems of NOx can be dealt with by running rich, with a catalytic converter.

A properly designed water injection system will be insulated, and have an automatically controlled heating element installed, making it work just fine in below zero Fahrenheit weather.

Slowburn
18th May, 2011 @ 04:20 am PDT

i am a very old physical chemist, with phd(s) as required in research/teaching/industry. all this bull is unfortunate. the possibilities are many. about 2 yrs ago, "science mag" the journal of american association for the advancement of science(aaas) funded by nat'l science fund, published an article using nanocrystalline gold as catalyst with pure hydrogen as product with small power use.

oldealchemist
18th May, 2011 @ 12:11 pm PDT

What a complete waste of time, energy and valuable research dollars. This process will have insignificant outcomes with saving the environment. He is also using a very finite resource for his hydrogen extraction.

Please let us all focus on renewable energy sources if you really want to make a difference.

Lawrie Barclay
20th May, 2011 @ 12:30 am PDT

Hydrogen is the future Energy Carrier. Any improved form of research in this direction is most welcome.

JA
27th June, 2011 @ 07:21 am PDT

Why don't we just burn the freaking natural gas and cut out the middle man/fuel? It's easier to remove co2 from that directly than by this method apparently.

@Lawrie Barclay: Ha! Good one. What the heck is wrong with natural gas? You do know that it is produced every time an organism burps, releases a flatus or decomposes, right? Hence the word, natural. You would be hard pressed to find a resource more abundant, energy dense and renewable than that. There is a ridiculous amount of the stuff in the earth, I don't know how long exactly they project the stuff will last us but it's got to be at least 150 years.

Ethan Brush
12th December, 2011 @ 04:08 pm PST
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