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Ceramic-membrane technology simplifies steam methane reforming

By Gerald Ondrey |

A new type of steam-reforming system that produces — in a single step — purified, compressed hydrogen from methane has been developed by a team of scientists from CoorsTek Membrane Sciences AS (Oslo; www.coorstek.com), the University of Oslo (both Norway; www.uio.no) and the Institute of Chemical Technology (Valencia, Spain; http://itq.upv-csic.es). In a laboratory-scale system, the so-called protonic membrane reformer (PMR) has been shown to achieve complete conversion of CH4 into two separate streams: wet CO2 and H2 with impurity levels of less than 4 parts per million (ppm) — clean enough for fuel-cell operation. The system has an overall energy efficiency of more than 87%.

As described in a recent issue of Nature Energy, the PMR is a tubular electrochemical cell with a proton-conducting electrolyte (BZCY: BaZr0.8-x-yCexYyO3-δ) sandwiched between two porous electrodes of BZCY and Ni. Methane and steam pass through the center of the reformer tube at a temperature of 700–850°C and a pressure of 5–30 bars. By applying a voltage across the electrolyte, H2 is selectively extracted from the inner reforming chamber by migrating through the proton-conducting membrane to generate pure H2 on the other side of the membrane. The H2 separation also serves to drive the thermodynamically limited reaction to full methane conversion. At the same time, the heat required for the highly endothermic reforming and water-shift reactions is supplied by the electrical operation of the membrane. The added bonus is that the product H2 is also compressed (electrochemically) to a pressure of 50 bars. In contrast, alternative membrane-reactor systems, such as those based on palladium membranes, are driven by partial pressure differences across the membrane, and thus require additional multistage compressors, with the associated capital and operating costs, to produce compressed H2.

CoorsTek Membrane Sciences believes such ceramic membrane systems can be a cost-competitive technology for H2 production with integrated CO2 capture, even at a scale required for cost-effective ammonia production. The company says it has the manufacturing capabilities to make ceramic membranes cost competitive with traditional energy conversion technology for both industrial- and small-scale H2 production. “A prototype membrane-manufacturing line is already operational, and an H2 mini-plant is now under construction with capacity to make up to 5 kg/d of H2,” says CoorsTek managing director Per Vestre.

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steam-reforming system

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