- Project will develop novel pathway to reducing carbon content of global hydrogen supply
- Converting renewable DME into hydrogen will solve vexing issues related to hydrogen production, transport and storage and open up new feedstocks for cost-effective renewable hydrogen production
SAN DIEGO — A public-private partnership between Los Alamos National Laboratory (the Laboratory) and Southern California-based Oberon Fuels has secured funding from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). The Laboratory/Oberon project is expected to scale-up steam reforming technology to produce renewable hydrogen (rH2) from renewable dimethyl ether (rDME), an innovative approach to increasing the global renewable hydrogen supply.
The effort is funded by DOE’s Technology Commercialization Fund, which supports mature, promising energy technologies with the potential for high impact and is also part of DOE’s “[email protected]” initiative to accelerate development of a hydrogen economy by funding advanced-technology research, development and demonstration (RD&D) with industrial partners.
Renewable DME has the potential to overcome the two largest barriers to widespread hydrogen adoption: the lack of cost-competitive, sustainable production and lack of energy-dense storage and transport.
DME is a hydrogen-rich molecule that can be produced from waste and/or renewable resources using Oberon’s modular production technology. Because DME handles like propane/liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), it requires minimal modifications to the existing global LPG distribution network and leverages the expertise of its existing workforce. This project will produce the final step – technology that can convert rDME into rH2 fuel at the point of use.
“Our novel approach to generating hydrogen flips the current model on its head,” said Rebecca Boudreaux, Ph.D., President and CEO of Oberon Fuels. “We are producing a hydrogen-rich molecule, moving it using existing, low-cost infrastructure, and converting it to hydrogen fuel on demand. We are thrilled to partner with Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Department of Energy to meet Secretary Jennifer Granholm’s vision for a hydrogen economy.”
This project builds on a previous “bench-top” demonstration of a DME steam reforming process conducted by researchers at the Laboratory, which produced 0.018 kg of hydrogen per day. The goal is to boost production to 25 kg per day—a greater than 1,300-fold increase in hydrogen production capacity. The modeling and experimental outcomes of this project will be used as the foundational underpinnings to further scale the process from 25 to 500 kg of renewable hydrogen per day, which exceeds what an average hydrogen filling station currently uses per-day for light-duty vehicles.
“Based on the guidelines for alternative fuels, the DOE requirements for hydrogen carriers, our own thermodynamics analyses, and our bench-scale proof-of-concept validation, we believe DME is ideally suited for the [email protected] effort,” said Troy A. Semelsberger, Ph.D., a Technical Staff Member at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Earlier this month, Oberon began commercial production of the first-ever renewable DME in the U.S. at its facility in Brawley, Calif., using waste methanol from the pulp and paper industry. Other potential feedstocks include: biogas from dairy waste, food wastes, agricultural waste, as well as excess electricity and CO2.
“The team at Los Alamos National Laboratory has already shown the advantages of DME-to-hydrogen reforming including lower reaction temperatures, which can reduce the operating costs and the system footprint. We cannot wait to build on this strong foundation to show that rDME can be a pathway to help decarbonize the transportation sector,” said Elliot Hicks, Chief Operating and Technology Officer and an Oberon Fuels co-founder.
About Oberon Fuels
California-based Oberon Fuels is on a global mission to decarbonize transportation by producing a powerful, enabling molecule, dimethyl ether (DME). DME, which can range from being ultra-low carbon to carbon-negative, can significantly reduce the carbon footprint of the transportation sector and beyond 1) as an energy-dense, cost-effective means to move renewable hydrogen, 2) as a blending agent for LPG, and 3) as a diesel replacement. Oberon has challenged the status quo by introducing innovative solutions to the transportation sector to reduce its carbon footprint, vehicle emissions and improve local air quality while creating economic opportunity for the communities where they operate. In 2013, Oberon Fuels’ refinery in Brawley, Calif., produced the first fuel-grade DME in North America, and in 2021 produced the first-ever renewable DME in the US. Oberon’s DME has powered vehicle demonstrations around the world with Volvo Trucks, Mack Trucks, Ford, among others. Founded in 2010, Oberon Fuels is privately held with both private and strategic investors, including Suburban Propane Partners, L.P.
More information about Oberon Fuels is available at www.oberonfuels.com.
About Los Alamos National Laboratory
Los Alamos National Laboratory, a multidisciplinary research institution engaged in strategic science on behalf of national security, is managed by Triad, a public service oriented, national security science organization equally owned by its three founding members: Battelle Memorial Institute (Battelle), the Texas A&M University System (TAMUS), and the Regents of the University of California (UC) for the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration.
Los Alamos enhances national security by ensuring the safety and reliability of the U.S. nuclear stockpile, developing technologies to reduce threats from weapons of mass destruction, and solving problems related to energy, environment, infrastructure, health, and global security concerns.