Full steam ahead for waste-based hydrogen technology

A new method of steam-reforming hydrogen could allow fuel cells to be powered from organic waste materials such as vegetable oil or the glycerol by-product of bio-diesel.

Under development at the University of Leeds, the process - called Unmixed and Sorption-Enhanced Steam Reforming - mixes waste hydrocarbons with steam in a catalytic reactor, generating hydrogen and carbon dioxide. The steam is then easily condensed by cooling and the carbon dioxide is removed in-situ by a solid sorbent material.

"We are investigating the feasibility of creating a uniquely energy efficient method of hydrogen production which uses air rather than burners to heat the raw product. Our current research will improve the sustainability of this process and reduce its carbon emissions," said Dr Valerie Dupont from the university's School of Process, Environmental and Materials Engineering (SPEME).

The aim is to create the high purity hydrogen-based fuel suitable for both fuel cells and large-scale power production, but without also emitting high levels of greenhouse gases.

"It's becoming increasingly necessary for scientists devising new technologies to limit the amount of carbon dioxide they release," said Dr Dupont. "This project takes us one step closer to these goals – once we have technologies that enable us to produce hydrogen sustainably, the infrastructure to support its use will grow.

"We firmly believe that these advanced steam reforming processes have great potential for helping to build the hydrogen economy. Our primary focus now is to ensure the materials we rely on – both to catalyse the desired reaction and to capture the carbon dioxide – can be used over and over again without losing their efficacy."

The Leeds project is part of an overall consortium of 12 institutions known as SUPERGEN Sustainable Hydrogen Delivery, and has been awarded a grant of over £400,000 by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

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