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Portable microreactor to produce hydrogen from everyday fossil fuels


May 24, 2011

The students from Steven Institute of Technology responsible for the new microreactor that can convert fossil fuels into pure hydrogen

The students from Steven Institute of Technology responsible for the new microreactor that can convert fossil fuels into pure hydrogen

With up to 80 percent of the weight of a soldier's gear attributable to batteries, the U.S. Army is obviously interested in replacement technologies that deliver a reliable, reusable power source. Chemical Engineering students at Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey believe their invention of a microreactor that can convert everyday fossil fuels such as butane and propane into pure hydrogen for fuel cell batteries might be the answer.

Although we've looked at numerous promising breakthroughs in the field of hydrogen production, current methods require high temperatures and a vacuum to produce the plasma required for the necessary chemical reaction. Another problem with hydrogen is that once it is produced, it is highly volatile, making it dangerous and expensive to transport - not to mention a good explosive target for enemy combatants looking to get a bang for their bullet.

The Stevens team says its microreactor overcomes both the production and storage problems by using low temperatures and atmospheric pressure, and by producing hydrogen only as needed.

Using cutting-edge microfabrication techniques, similar to those used to manufacture plasma TV screens, the team was able to produce plasma under normal atmosphere.

So far the team has had success producing hydrogen from methanol by first gasifying the methanol and suspending it in hot nitrogen gas. The mixture is then drawn into a 25┬Ám channel in the microreactor where it reacts with plasma to cause thermal decomposition and breaking down the methanol into its elemental components.

The Stevens research team is now conducting tests to see what kind of yields are possible from different starter fuels with the aim of eventually providing soldiers with the ability to convert everyday liquid fuels commonly found on military bases, such as butane and propane, into hydrogen for portable fuel cell batteries.

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag. All articles by Darren Quick

This is good -- hoping for non-military apps too.

Paul Alexander

Re; Producing Hydrogen from Fossil fuels. This incorrect.

They are seperating the H out of the other components. Maybe its more efficient to do this than split water?. Cheers John M

John M

I see no mention of the fact that this microreactor, by using the gassification method of producing hydrogen, likely also produces more carbon monoxide than simply burning the fossil fuel itself. CO2 is removed from the atmosphere by photosynthesis, CO is not - instead it hangs in the atmosphere until finally it oxidizes back to CO2 & Ozone. There is more to consider than just \'making hydrogen\' when the result is the production of a gas which in the short term is even less useful than CO2.


It really depends on the reaction that is occurring. The hydrogen molecules could be released from the fuel while the carbon forms compounds other than CO or CO2.

Andrew R

It is posible to spleet LPG and NG in Hydrogen and Carbon Black with a plasma reactor, it doesn;t matter size of the reactor.

Esteban Sperber Frankel
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