Hydrogen from methane without CO2 emissions

Apr 09, 2013

Production of hydrogen from methane without carbon dioxide emissions is the objective of a project in which KIT is a major partner. At KALLA, the Karlsruhe Liquid-metal Laboratory, researchers are setting up a novel liquid-metal bubble column reactor, in which methane is decomposed into hydrogen and elemental carbon at high temperature. In this project, KIT cooperates with the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS). Today, the initiator of the project and scientific director of IASS, Nobel Prize laureate Professor Carlo Rubbia, met KIT scientists working at KALLA, the Institute for Pulsed Power and Microwave Technology (IHM), and the Institute for Applied Materials - Material Process Technology (IAM-WPT).

production from fossil fuels without emissions of climate-affecting carbon dioxide – this vision might come true through the research program "Combustion of Methane without CO2 Emissions". Since late 2012, KIT has been partner in the program that is part of the Earth, Energy, and Environment (E3) Cluster of the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS), Potsdam. "This is the truly pioneering experiment with the ambition of using fossils without CO2 emissions," said the scientific director of IASS and physics Nobel Prize laureate Professor Carlo Rubbia when visiting KIT today.

Hydrogen represents a promising medium for the storage and transport of energy in the future. However, it is bound in water (H2O) or hydrocarbons, such as petroleum, natural gas or coal. Consequently, the hydrogen has to be separated first. In the course of conventional separation processes, the climate-affecting carbon dioxide is formed. Today's worldwide causes about 5% of the .

CO2-free hydrogen production at KIT will be achieved by thermal decomposition of methane in a high-temperature bubble column reactor. KIT researchers enter entirely new ground. "With this project, we have the opportunity to participate in the development of fundamentals for a completely new energy technology," explains the head of KALLA, Professor Thomas Wetzel. "If feasibility can be confirmed, sustainable production and use of hydrogen from fossil sources that would have affected the climate if they were used conventionally will be possible."

The liquid-metal bubble column reactor to be built up at KALLA in the next months is a vertical column of about half a meter in height and a few centimeters in diameter. The column is filled with liquid metal that is heated up to 1000°C. Fine methane bubbles enter the column through a porous filling at the bottom. These bubbles rise up to the surface. "At such high temperatures, the ascending methane bubbles are increasingly decomposed into hydrogen and carbon," explains Professor Thomas Wetzel. "We will study how much hydrogen can be produced by a smart process conduct."

The KIT liquid-metal bubble column reactor is based on previous work of Professor Carlo Rubbia and Professor Alberto Abánades from IASS. They studied thermal decomposition of methane in a gas-phase reactor. During this gas-phase reaction, however, the carbon formed deposited on the reactor walls. As a result, gas channels were plugged after a short time and no continuous process was possible. "In the reactor planned to be built in cooperation with the IASS colleagues, the shell of the bubbles assumes the role of the wall," explains Thomas Wetzel. "Only when the bubbles burst at the surface of the liquid metal, is carbon released. The reactor wall is constantly renewed." A similar approach was described by researchers in the team of Manuela Serban from the Argonne National Lab, USA, about ten years ago. Since then, however, this process has not been developed any further.

Following the setup of the test reactor, KIT scientists will study various parameters influencing process conduct and potential hydrogen yield this year. Work at KIT will also focus on fundamental scientific aspects, for example, on the identification of reaction paths influencing the composition of the product gas flow and on possibilities of removing carbon from the reactor. In parallel, the scientists will select materials for potential future industrial reactors, study filter technology, and develop probes for a later continuous process conduct.

Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) is one of Europe's leading energy research establishments. Research, education, and innovation at KIT foster the energy turnaround and reorganization of the energy system in Germany. KIT links excellent competences in engineering and science with know-how in economics, the humanities, and social science as well as law. The activities of the KIT Energy Center are organized in seven topics: Energy conversion, renewable energies, energy storage and distribution, efficient energy use, fusion technology, nuclear power and safety, and energy systems analysis. Clear priorities lie in the areas of energy efficiency and renewable energies, energy storage technologies and grids, electromobility, and enhanced international cooperation in research.

Explore further: Plug n' Play protein crystals

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Mathematical model improves reactor efficiency

Jun 12, 2007

During his PhD project at Eindhoven University of Technology, Dutch researcher Vinit Chilekar developed a mathematical model for the design of a so-called slurry bubble column. That is a reactor for large-scale chemical processes, ...

Sunlight turns carbon dioxide to methane

Mar 05, 2009

Dual catalysts may be the key to efficiently turning carbon dioxide and water vapor into methane and other hydrocarbons using titania nanotubes and solar power, according to Penn State researchers.

Recommended for you

Team pioneers strategy for creating new materials

16 hours ago

Making something new is never easy. Scientists constantly theorize about new materials, but when the material is manufactured it doesn't always work as expected. To create a new strategy for designing materials, ...

Plug n' Play protein crystals

21 hours ago

Almost a hundred years ago in 1929 Linus Pauling presented the famous Pauling's Rules to describe the principles governing the structure of complex ionic crystals. These rules essentially describe how the ...

Breaking benzene

Aug 27, 2014

Aromatic compounds are found widely in natural resources such as petroleum and biomass, and breaking the carbon-carbon bonds in these compounds plays an important role in the production of fuels and valuable ...

User comments : 14

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

praos
1.6 / 5 (7) Apr 09, 2013
If carbon is discarded, then more than half of energy contained in methane is lost. If it is burned, then we have CO2. I am sick and tired of all these miraculous fossil-fired perpetual motion machines. Fossils are dead, bury them (or left buried), and go nuclear.
Lurker2358
2.1 / 5 (7) Apr 09, 2013
The liquid-metal bubble column reactor to be built up at KALLA in the next months is a vertical column of about half a meter in height and a few centimeters in diameter. The column is filled with liquid metal that is heated up to 1000°C. Fine methane bubbles enter the column through a porous filling at the bottom. These bubbles rise up to the surface. "At such high temperatures, the ascending methane bubbles are increasingly decomposed into hydrogen and carbon," explains Professor Thomas Wetzel. "We will study how much hydrogen can be produced by a smart process conduct."[/]

Look how much energy you're wasting.

Methane is much cleaner than oil or coal anyway, so what's the complaint? 1 Carbon atom per 4 hydrogen is not bad at all, and it's cheaper and easier to store and transport than pure hydrogen.

If you're wasting that much energy just to remove the carbon, you'll probably double or quadruple the price of the actual energy.

These people are morons. I swear.
Steven_Anderson
1 / 5 (3) Apr 09, 2013
This is old news, the Percival has already developed a hydrogen production system from biomass that is over 100 % efficient it involves the use of a bunch of enzymes. A detailed article can be found here: http://rawcell.co...e-on-me/
Q-Star
2.7 / 5 (7) Apr 09, 2013
This is old news, the Percival has already developed a hydrogen production system from biomass that is over 100 % efficient it involves the use of a bunch of enzymes. A detailed article can be found here:


How can something be "over 100 % efficient"? That is a physical impossibility. I suspect that the site ya are endlessly promoting is selling a perpetual motion machine (actually better than a perpetual motion machine since ya claim MORE coming out than going in.)

But ya are correct in one thing, perpetual motion machines are old news, they've been around since the dawn of man.

By the By: Do ya make more money from the number of hits on the site? Or from the sales of the perpetual motion machines?
ValeriaT
2 / 5 (4) Apr 09, 2013
They probably meant with 100%, that 100% of methane into something else, not the 100% yield of hydrogen or heat efficiency. The reaction actually cannot work 100% just because of "carbon released". This carbon indicates some bypass reaction, probably under formation of carbon and carbon-monoxide, which will contaminate the hydrogen produced.
RealScience
3.7 / 5 (3) Apr 09, 2013
@Q-Star - many things can be over 100% efficient if one just measures a key input and not all inputs. For example, electric heaters are essentially close to 100% efficient (if one ignores the losses in generation and transmission and the production of the heater itself). In contrast heat pumps deliver several kilowatts of heat for each kilowatt of electricity, making them more than 100% efficient relative to electricity input (and in some cases more than 100% even if generation and transmission losses are included).
Of course this is because the free low-grade heat input is ignored in the efficiency calculation, and only the paid-for electricity is counted.

Similarly in the case Steve is referring to, the >100% efficiency is for extracting the energy of the xylose (from biomass), and the calculation ignores the low-grade heat input to the endothermic reaction used.

If all inputs are counted, then you are correct that efficiency cannot exceed 100%.
Lurker2358
2 / 5 (4) Apr 09, 2013
If you spend half the energy capturing the carbon, you will consume the resource twice as fast.

I thought part of the "Green" movement was all about sustainability?

Mechanical storage under ground is almost certainly less energy intensive than some heat or chemical means, simply because of the energy density of chemical bonds vs physical storage.

What say you?

Energy waste with lower pollution isn't much better than pollution with lower energy waste.
Q-Star
2 / 5 (4) Apr 09, 2013
@Q-Star - many things can be over 100% efficient if one just measures a key input and not all inputs. For example, electric heaters are essentially close to 100% efficient (if one ignores the losses in generation and transmission and the production of the heater itself). In contrast heat pumps deliver several kilowatts of heat for each kilowatt of electricity, making them more than 100% efficient relative to electricity input (and in some cases more than 100% even if generation and transmission losses are included).
Of course this is because the free low-grade heat input is ignored in the efficiency calculation, and only the paid-for electricity is counted.

If all inputs are counted, then you are correct that efficiency cannot exceed 100%.


Nothing known to man can do work at 100% efficiency. Not without doing some "sleight of hand" when preforming the calculations. Energy can not be transformed from one type to another with 100% efficiency, without some sleight of hand.
Lurker2358
2.3 / 5 (3) Apr 09, 2013
Nothing known to man can do work at 100% efficiency. Not without doing some "sleight of hand" when preforming the calculations. Energy can not be transformed from one type to another with 100% efficiency, without some sleight of hand.


That's actually not technically true, because it depends on how you measure efficiency.

Thermodynamic efficiency of "input energy" of machines is less than 100%, but when you consider things like geothermal and solar and wind energy are there whether or not you use them, then we can see that it is much more efficient to make some attempt to harvest them than to not do so.
RealScience
not rated yet Apr 09, 2013
Nothing known to man can do work at 100% efficiency. Not without doing some "sleight of hand" when preforming the calculations. Energy can not be transformed from one type to another with 100% efficiency, without some sleight of hand.


Q-Star - That's what I mean by
If all inputs are counted, then you are correct that efficiency cannot exceed 100%.


And the original article didn't hide the 'slight of hand', but acknowledge the use of low-grade heat (which in many cases is waste heat and thus essentially free until you need lots of it).
gwrede
1 / 5 (2) Apr 10, 2013
Suppose this works and can be scaled up. Then we will have enormous plants that convert methane to hydrogen. The hydrogen is then used in power plants and as fuel for cars. Very nice.

But where does the coal go? The EPA says the US CO2 emissions are about 6000 million tons every year. (Roughly 1/3 of that is coal and 2/3 oxygen.) But, since we're now burning hydrogen only, we lose the carbon component of the energy, so we should actually add something here, but I don't bother since the result is ugly enough as it is:

The amount of left-over carbon from our conversion plants would be 2000 million tons, which would make two cubes, each 1 kilometer high. And this every year.

Where could we put that much coal?
RealScience
not rated yet Apr 10, 2013
@gwerde - Since it would be clean carbon (as opposed to coal which has sulfur, mercury, etc.), and since pure carbon is pretty stable, it could be used like biochar to enrich soils, or used industrially. That amount pales in comparison to the mine tailings from our current removal of coal, so any excess could be buried at less cost and damage than current coal mining.

Steven_Anderson
1 / 5 (2) Apr 10, 2013
@Q-Star -
Similarly in the case Steve is referring to, the >100% efficiency is for extracting the energy of the xylose (from biomass), and the calculation ignores the low-grade heat input to the endothermic reaction used.
Actually the net output of heat is a surplus in the reaction. It is less than one-hundred percent efficient when you measure the use of input energy to create the plants in the first place which is relavitly low and also when you consider farming related heat energies and fertilizer energy, but the process itself produces net energy. That's the efficiency I am referring too. I should be more careful with my definition of efficiency in the future. Criticism is taken. Thanks. http://rawcell.com
Midcliff
not rated yet Apr 14, 2013
Nuclear fission is much greater than 100% efficient. The energy released is many times greater than the energy put in. Same with all endothermic reactions assuming you use a natural fuel like coal, oil, wood or uranium. Technically though, nature put in all the energy that is released. i. e. A star had to explode to make the uranium.