July 8, 2009

Hydrogen Technology Rolls Ahead

Could the cars and laptops of the future be fueled by old chip fat?

Engineers at the University of Leeds believe so, and are developing an energy efficient, environmentally-friendly hydrogen production system. The system enables hydrogen to be extracted from waste materials, such as vegetable oil and the glycerol by-product of bio-diesel. The aim is to create the high purity hydrogen-based fuel necessary not only for large-scale power production, but also for smaller portable fuel cells.

Dr Valerie Dupont from the School of Process, Environmental and Materials Engineering (SPEME) says: "I can foresee a time when the processes we are investigating could help ensure that hydrogen is a mainstream fuel.

 "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."

A grant of over £400k has been awarded to the University by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) within a consortium of 12 institutions known as SUPERGEN Sustainable Hydrogen Delivery.

Hydrogen is widely considered to be a potential replacement for fossil fuels, but it is costly to extract. There are also often high levels of greenhouse gases emitted during conventional methods of production.

The system being developed at Leeds "“ known as Unmixed and Sorption-Enhanced Steam Reforming - mixes waste products with steam to release hydrogen and is potentially cheaper, cleaner and more energy efficient.

A hydrocarbon-based fuel from plant or waste sources is mixed with steam in a catalytic reactor, generating hydrogen and carbon dioxide along with excess water. The water is then easily condensed by cooling and the carbon dioxide is removed in-situ by a solid sorbent material.

Dr Dupont says: "It's becoming increasingly necessary for scientists devising new technologies to limit the amount of carbon dioxide they release. 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 catalyze the desired reaction and to capture the carbon dioxide "“ can be used over and over again without losing their efficacy."


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