New CoorsTek Membrane Sciences research shows how ceramic membrane technology enables compact hydrogen generators for anyone with access to natural gas to easily and inexpensively fuel a hydrogen vehicle at home
CoorsTek, the world’s leading engineered ceramics manufacturer, today announced that a team of scientists from CoorsTek Membrane Sciences, the University of Oslo (Norway) and the Instituto de Tecnología Química (Spain) have successfully completed laboratory testing of a ceramic membrane that generates compressed hydrogen from natural gas and electricity in a one-step process with near zero energy loss. The ceramic membrane makes production of hydrogen from abundant, low-cost natural gas so efficient that it will make hydrogen the cleanest and least expensive option for future automotive fueling — surpassing both electricity and petroleum. Results of the team’s breakthrough development were recently published in the prestigious peer-reviewed scientific journal Nature Energy in the research report “Thermo-electrochemical production of compressed hydrogen from methane with near-zero energy loss.”
The research report builds on 20 years of experience in the development and manufacturing of ceramic membranes at CoorsTek. The present membrane is made from oxides of abundant materials (including barium, zirconia, and yttrium), forming a solid ceramic electrolyte that can transport hydrogen in the form of protons at temperatures from 400 to 900 °C. By applying an electric potential over the ceramic cell, hydrogen is not only separated from other gases but also electrochemically compressed.
“Our breakthrough ceramic membrane technology makes it possible for hydrogen-fueled vehicles to have superior energy efficiency with lower greenhouse gas emissions compared to a battery electric vehicle charged with electricity from the grid,” said Per Vestre, Managing Director at CoorsTek Membrane Sciences. “The potential for this technology also goes well beyond lowering the cost and environmental impact of fueling motor vehicles. With high-volume CoorsTek engineered ceramic manufacturing capabilities, we can make ceramic membranes cost-competitive with traditional energy conversion technology for both industrial-scale and smaller-scale hydrogen production.”
Hydrogen is an energy carrier for next-generation fuel cell electric vehicles, and is already an important molecule for a range of industrial processes from food processing to manufacturing of glass and semiconductors, with ammonia-based fertilizers as the single largest application for hydrogen today. While a fuel cell electric vehicle will only need about 0.4 kg of hydrogen per day for typical family use, a world-scale ammonia plant needs a million times more, from 200 to 600 tons of hydrogen per day. CoorsTek Membrane Sciences research indicates that ceramic membranes can be a competitive technology for hydrogen production with integrated carbon capture, even at a scale required for cost-effective ammonia production.
“By combining an endothermic chemical reaction with an electrically operated gas separation membrane, we can create energy conversions with near zero energy loss”, explains Dr. Jose Serra, Professor with Instituto de Tecnología Química (ITQ) in Valencia, Spain, a leading research lab for hydrocarbon chemistry and a co-author of the report in Nature Energy. “When you have the technology to convert energy from one form to another with almost no loss of energy, this opens up new ways to think about energy systems. For example, we can use the ceramic membrane technology to produce hydrogen from water. This will require more electric power than reforming of methane, but if electricity is available from renewable sources we can make hydrogen without CO2 emissions. You can also think one step further and design energy systems that are not only low carbon or zero carbon, but even have negative carbon emissions. This will be the case if you use renewable electricity to reform biogas to hydrogen, and store the produced carbon from the biogas underground. In this way, hydrogen can one day become a negative emission energy carrier.”
Read the research report published in Nature Energy, “Thermo-electrochemical production of compressed hydrogen from methane with near-zero energy loss”.