A team of Norwegian researchers has succeeded in producing hydrogen using a far more efficient method than is currently in use. The technology was ready as early as in 2017. The team has also demonstrated that the process can be scaled up for commercial application.
Hydrogen production takes place using natural gas as the raw material, combined with a very special ceramic membrane. Both hydrogen production and CO2 capture are achieved in a single step, which makes the method highly energy efficient. This is why the technology has been the subject of an article in the prestigious research periodical Science.
“Currently established methods have energy efficiency ratings of between 70 and 75 percent, but our approach has a potential efficiency of 90 percent”, says Harald Malerød-Fjeld at CoorsTek Membrane Sciences in Oslo. “The end product is compressed hydrogen with a high degree of purity. The ceramic membrane reactor also separates carbon dioxide more efficiently, enabling the greenhouse gas to be easily transported and sequestered”, he says.
CoorsTek Membrane Sciences specialises in the manufacture of ceramic materials for energy conversion and, together with SINTEF, is one of the research partners in this project.
The company’s collaboration with SINTEF has been very close and has generated visible results that have been reported in the most prestigious international periodicals.
Five years ago, Nature published an article about the Norwegian research team. At that time, they had just succeeded in demonstrating the fundamental principles behind producing hydrogen using a new and highly energy-efficient approach. A recent article in Science has now confirmed that the method works, and the team is now working to scale the technology up.
“This is an important step on the road to making hydrogen far more practical as a fuel”, says Malerød-Fjeld. “The process also has a low carbon footprint”, he says.
Short- and long-term relevance
The research is being carried out at SINTEF’s facilities and laboratories in Oslo, which are co-located with CoorsTek Membrane Sciences’ premises. Senior Research Scientist Thijs Peters at SINTEF is one of the co-authors of the Science article about the new project.
“What is interesting about this technology is that it has both short- and long-term relevance”, says Peters. “It can be used not only for the production of blue hydrogen from natural gas, but also for green hydrogen from biogas or ammonia as part of a ‘more sustainable future’”, he says.
Generates its own heat
The technology used for producing hydrogen from natural gas is well known and is called steam reforming. Natural gas consists mostly of methane and when this reacts with steam, four hydrogen molecules are obtained for every methane molecule. In order for this reaction to work the steam must be supplied at high temperatures.