Electrified methane reformer produces far less carbon dioxide

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A team of researchers from several institutions in Denmark, along with colleagues from Sintex and Haldor Topsoe, has developed an electrified methane reformer that produces far less CO2 than conventional steam-methane reformers. In their paper published in the journal Science, the group describes their new technology and how well it works. Kevin Van Geem, Vladimir Galvita and Guy Marin with the Laboratory for Chemical Technology and Center for Sustainable Chemistry in Ghent have published a Perspective piece on the work done by the team in the same journal issue.

Production of is big business. Approximately 60 million tons are made each year. It is used primarily to make methanol and ammonia for fertilizer. Some researchers estimate that collectively, steam-methane reformers account for approximately 3 percent of all global CO2 emissions.

The steam-methane reformer is a very large device that is used to extract hydrogen from methane. It is also a major emitter of CO2 into the atmosphere. It is typically housed in a large, six-story building where is burned to heat methane and water under pressure causing the molecules to form syngas—a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen. It also produces CO2 when some of the mixture does not combust properly and as the natural gas is burned. In the new effort, the team in Denmark sought to build a methane reformer that uses electricity instead of natural gas to heat the methane and water. The goal was to reduce both CO2 emissions and costs associated with making hydrogen.

The team reports that the resulting device is significantly smaller than a conventional methane reformer and far cleaner. By using electricity, they were able to heat the methane/water mixture more evenly, which resulted in fewer CO2 emissions. Also, the heating process itself produced no CO2. The researchers point out that if their device were powered by electricity generated from a renewable resource, they could reduce the footprint of hydrogen production dramatically. They suggest that if all the steam- reformers in the world were replaced by electrified systems, the world would see a 1 percent drop in CO2 emissions.

An innovative approach to the production of synthesis gas for the chemical industry can reduce CO2 emissions on a global scale. Credit: Haldor Topsoe

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More information: Sebastian T. Wismann et al. Electrified methane reforming: A compact approach to greener industrial hydrogen production, Science (2019). DOI: 10.1126/science.aaw8775
Journal information: Science

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May 24, 2019
Denmark has plenty of wind power. Why aren't they using the electricity to make hydrogen directly? Why do they need to use natural gas to make it?

Oh, right, the embedded energy of the hydrogen comes from the natural gas, and the electricity is only used to convert it from one molecule to the other. If the energy was sourced directly from wind power, the hydrogen would be far too expensive to use.

So, nothing solved, nothing gained.

May 24, 2019
@Eikka.
Denmark has plenty of wind power. Why aren't they using the electricity to make hydrogen directly? Why do they need to use natural gas to make it?

Oh, right, the embedded energy of the hydrogen comes from the natural gas, and the electricity is only used to convert it from one molecule to the other. If the energy was sourced directly from wind power, the hydrogen would be far too expensive to use.

So, nothing solved, nothing gained.
You were so eager to construct and argue against your own straw man that you entirely missed the point. Renewable electricity is more valuable for direct use in domestic/commercial/EV-BATTERYvehicle contexts. The above improvement in gas reforming is specifically aimed at making the gas source more clean as an energy source produced for where Hydrogen fuel is preferred for other uses/reasons and any reduction in the 'reforming' process's CO2 byproduct is a plus. And you were doing so well with your other observations elsewhere! :)

May 25, 2019
Renewable electricity is more valuable for direct use in domestic/commercial/EV-BATTERYvehicle contexts.


On the contrary. Renewable energy is most needed in displacing the industrial/commercial energy sources and producing chemical feedstocks which account for 80% of the actual energy consumption and CO2 production around the world. Domestic energy use is a minority, electric cars a vanishingly small user, and the high price of electricity is causing people to switch from electricity to natural gas in the domestic setting anyhow.

This case is just another example of penny wise pound foolish. The use of natural gas to produce hydrogen makes at least 9 times more CO2 than you could ever hope to save because you're using fossil fuels as the chemical feedstock. The entire thing has to be replaced, otherwise you haven't actually accomplished anything.

May 25, 2019
Hydrogen fuel


This isn't a question of hydrogen fuel, but fertilizers and chemicals for further processing. We are not talking about putting the hydrogen into cars, yet. The EV question is a complete red herring.

May 25, 2019
@Eikka.
Renewable energy is most needed in displacing the industrial/commercial energy sources and producing chemical feedstocks which account for 80% of the actual energy consumption and CO2 production around the world. Domestic energy use is a minority, electric cars a vanishingly small user, and the high price of electricity is causing people to switch from electricity to natural gas in the domestic setting anyhow.
The domestic/transportation electric demand is increasing apace as more air-conditioning and home solar/battery systems are installed to replace polluting/warming-causing fossil sourced electricity/fuel. So your 'vanishingly small' characterisation of FUTURE situation is a short-sighted view to suit your obviously biased perspective. And electricity from renewables getting cheaper/cleaner as 'critical mass' is approached in renewables infrastructure and installations. So we can save gas for 'quick start/stop' back-up power plants for renewables as needed.

May 25, 2019
@Eikka ...continued:
This case is just another example of penny wise pound foolish. The use of natural gas to produce hydrogen makes at least 9 times more CO2 than you could ever hope to save because you're using fossil fuels as the chemical feedstock. The entire thing has to be replaced, otherwise you haven't actually accomplished anything.
It has always been the reasonable approach to get to a 'mix' of approx. 25% Gas-75% Renewables/storage. The gas can be used AS gas in power plants and for chemicals/specialised fuels feedstock. Producing Hydrogen from gas is, I must I agree with you, less desirable a use for the gas feedstock. A large commercial Hydrogen economy would, as you say be better served via hydrolysis of water by renewables-electricity directly. However, where water and/or renewables are scarce/sensitive to opportunity-cost factors, the much less renewables-electricity required to heat the gas-reforming process above is better than nothing/less polluting.

May 25, 2019
@Eikka.
We are not talking about putting the hydrogen into cars, yet.
Yes; which is why I never recommended using Hydrogen/Fuel Cells in any vehicles/plants unless the 'niche' requirements necessitate such power plant use in plants/equipment. But any such 'niches' might be better served by battery-Electric from renewables or gas-powered engines or even petroleum/diesel powered engines (the elimination of all fossil fuel use is unreasonable and unnecessary in my opinion...as once the main 25% gas-75% renewables stage approaches we can afford to use 'niche' ICE vehicles/plants for special purposes, particularly in colder climes or where renewable-electricity would be scarce/expensive due to local climes/insolation etc factors.

In short: 'Horses for courses' is the reasonable approach to all these things, don't you agree, mate? Cheers. :)

May 26, 2019
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