October 13, 2008

Idaho National Laboratory Hydrogen Breakthrough Could Have Big Impacts on Oil Industry

By Hagadone, Zach

A breakthrough at the Idaho National Laboratory may lead the way forward for the commercial use of hydrogen produced through high- temperature electrolysis (HTE), specifically in the area of oil production.

"The biggest (commercial application) at this stage is in sweetening heavy crude or low-grade crude - stuff that is really thick," said INL spokesman Lou Riepl. "You need a good source of hydrogen to be able to make it truly useable and recoverable."

The way industry sweetens heavy crude now, Riepl added, is with hydrogen produced via steam re-forming from natural gas. The process is costly and not very energy efficient - especially as natural gas prices fluctuate. Finding a cheaper, more cost-effective method of sweetening crude oil could have major impacts on the oil industry and the economy as a whole.

"That's the immediate brass ring that we're going for," Riepl said.

When scientists working on the project found they could produce hydrogen at a rate of 5.6 cubic meters per hour, using steam and electricity, they heralded the discovery as a "milestone," bringing to fruition five years of research.

"This is by far the biggest achievement we've had," said Carl Stoots, the experiment's principle investigator.

INL officials said the success of the experiment has opened new doors for innovation in energy production, and breathed new life into the Department of Energy's pursuit of a hydrogen economy.

"At this point, reaching that production volume is really significant," Riepl said. "Up to this point it's been one of those, 'Yeah, you've proven you can do this but can you do it at a large enough volume to make it commercially viable?' That said we're still working with our industry partners on scale-up and some material refinement."

Credit: Zach Hagadone

(Copyright 2008 Dolan Media Newswires)

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