Researchers from West Virginia University will partner with colleagues from Southern California Gas Company and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory on technology that converts natural gas to hydrogen and value-added forms of carbon.
The availability of unprecedented volumes of shale gas resources present a significant opportunity to develop completely new processes for hydrogen generation.
“Long-term trends show a preference for non-carbon forms of energy. Hydrogen appears to be the most promising and environmentally benign energy source, since it can be converted into electricity and other energy forms with less pollution and high efficiency,” said John Hu, Statler Chair in Engineering for Natural Gas Utilization. “However, the objectives of reduced carbon emissions and enhanced use of hydrogen for fuel are in direct conflict as the most commercially viable method for hydrogen production from natural gas via steam methane reforming, produces large amounts of carbon dioxide.”
Hu’s group at WVU recently reported a promising new catalyst innovation for non-oxidative thermochemical conversion of methane to CO2-free hydrogen and solid carbon nanotubes. The catalysis promotes “base growth” carbon nanotube formation rather than the current “tip growth” technology. Base growth formation enables the catalyst to regenerate while also creating a highly pure and crystalline carbon product. The reaction conditions can be optimized to tune the diameter and length of the CNTs produced. WVU brings catalyst and process background-related intellectual property to the project.
The goal of the partnership, which is being led by C4-MCP, LLC, a Santa Monica, California-based technology start-up, is to offset the hydrogen production costs with the sales of carbon fiber and CNTs, reducing the hydrogen’s net cost to under $2 per kilogram. This will help make hydrogen-fueled cars and trucks cost-competitive with conventional gasoline and diesel vehicles and will virtually eliminate CO2 emissions from the methane-to-hydrogen process. The carbon fiber can also be used in various medical device, aerospace and building products.
PNNL will assist WVU in the evaluation of its new process while performing independent bench scale process evaluations to further develop the catalytic system. The work could ultimately lead to a commercial-scale process.
“The catalytic materials developed and reaction mechanisms evaluated in this study will guide other hydrogen materials selection and innovation,” Hu said.
The work is being funded by the U.S. Department of Energy's Fuel Cell Technologies Office.