German Karlsruhe Research Institute’s Awarding Winning Process For Producing Hydrogen Fuel From Methane

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Innovation Award for Climate-Friendly Methane Cracking

Producing Hydrogen from Natural Gas without Emissions: German Gas Industry Honors a Process Developed by Researchers from Karlsruhe and Potsdam – KIT Spin-Off Ineratec Receives Special Award for Innovative Startups

2018_151_Innovationspreis fur klimafreundliche Methanspaltung_72dpi

The experimental reactor for methane cracking is part of the liquid metal laboratory at KIT (Photo: Amadeus Bramsiepe, KIT)

Generating energy from natural gas without climate-damaging CO2 emissions – that’s the promise of a new technology developed in a joint research project by scientists at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) and the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) in Potsdam. Natural gas, which mainly consists of methane, is converted into hydrogen and fixed carbon. For their work, the researchers have now received the German Gas Industry Innovation Award. KIT was also honored with a new special award for the most innovative startup which was presented to Ineratec, a spin-off of the research university.

“The German Gas Industry Innovation Award for the new methane cracking process is testament to the innovative spirit of our scientists,” says the President of KIT, Professor Holger Hanselka.

“The option of using fossil natural gas in a climate-friendly way in the future can make a major contribution to curb CO2 emissions. I am very pleased that we, as the research university in the Helmholtz Association, can make this important contribution to climate protection together with our partners.” The award was presented to the research team consisting of scientists from KIT and IASS on November 22 in Berlin. The research team also won an additional award voted for by the attendees at the ceremony. The event was held under the auspices of the Federal Minister of Education and Research, Anja Karliczek.

 

Die Preisträger des Innovationspreis der Deutschen Gaswirtschaft 2018 aus dem KIT und dem IASS in Potsdam (Foto: Claudius Pflug) The winners of the 2018 German Gas Industry Innovation Award from KIT and IASS in Potsdam (Photo: Claudius Pflug)

The new process makes it possible to use natural gas in a climate-friendly manner. “Instead of directly burning natural gas, which mainly consists of methane, we break it up into its components hydrogen and carbon,” says Dr Stefan Stückrad who has co-managed the research project at IASS. The hydrogen produced in methane cracking can be used as an energy source in fuel cell vehicles as well as for generating electricity and heat.

Applications in the chemical industry are also possible. “So far, hydrogen for the chemical industry has mainly been produced from natural gas by steam methane reforming. During this process, considerable amounts of carbon dioxide are released,” says Stückrad. In addition to hydrogen, very pure powdery carbon is created as a by-product during cracking, the importance of which is constantly increasing as an industrial raw material. For example, it is used in the production of elastomers, lightweight materials, printing inks and batteries.

Methane cracking is not a new idea as such and has previously been analyzed in experiments with gas phase reactors. “Conventional methods proved unsuitable for application at an industrial scale, though,” says Professor Thomas Wetzel from the Institute of Thermal Process Engineering (TVT) at KIT. “The carbon produced during cracking was deposited on the heated reactor walls as a solid layer, blocking the reactors in a short space of time. Other approaches on the basis of arc- or plasma-based reactors weren’t very successful either.” The research project from IASS and KIT has therefore chosen a fundamentally different approach for continuous pyrolytic methane cracking.

The basic idea is to use molten tin as a heat transfer and liquid medium in a bubble column reactor. Here, KIT scientists have applied their expertise in liquid metal research and technology. In the Innovation Award winning process, methane gas is continuously fed into a liquid metal column from the bottom, which is kept at a temperature of up to 1,200 degrees Celsius, and rises as a bubble swarm. The gas in the bubbles very quickly reaches the reaction temperature so that pyrolysis reaction takes place. “The bubbles open up on the surface of the liquid tin and release the gaseous hydrogen and carbon,” says Wetzel. “The carbon occurs as micro-granular powder that is easy to separate from the gas stream and easy to handle.”

The new technology is now for the first time enabling continuous operation of a reactor for methane cracking. A conversion rate as high as 78 percent has been proven on a laboratory scale. The groups of scientists are currently working on further optimizing and scaling the process to pilot level.

Producing synthetic fuels from renewable energy sources inexpensively is also an important element for the energy transformation. Huge systems are required to produce synthetic gasoline, kerosene, diesel and natural gas. Ineratec, a KIT spin-off, builds chemical reactors that are so compact that the assembled system fits in a shipping container and can be used anywhere. At the 2018 German Gas Industry Innovation Award ceremony the young company was honored with a special award for the most innovative startup.

The German Gas Industry Innovation Award

Every two years, the associations of the German gas industry present the German Gas Industry Innovation Award organized by the Association for the Efficient and Environmentally Friendly Use of Energy (ASUE). Award partners of ASUE are the German Technical and Scientific Association for Gas and Water (DVGW), the Association of the German Energy and Water Industry (BDEW) as well as the Zukunft Erdgas industry initiative. The awards are presented in four categories; the project from KIT and IASS on methane cracking was a winner in the “Research & Development” category. INERATEC was honored with a new special award for innovative startups.

Detailed caption: The experimental reactor for methane cracking is a 1.2-meter-high device made from quartz and stainless steel which contains molten tin. In the reactor, cracking takes place in methane bubbles as they rise up. The reactor is part of KALLA (KArlsruhe Liquid Metal LAboratory) where various technologies for the use of liquid metals are developed. (Photo: Amadeus Bramsiepe, KIT)

More about the KIT Energy Center: http://www.energie.kit.edu External Link

Hat-tip: Die kalte Sonne.

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23 responses to “German Karlsruhe Research Institute’s Awarding Winning Process For Producing Hydrogen Fuel From Methane”

  1. Yonason

    “In the Innovation Award winning process, methane gas is continuously fed into a liquid metal column from the bottom, which is kept at a temperature of up to 1,200 degrees Celsius

    And what energy source is used to maintain the tin at such a ridiculously high temperature? I’ll wager it isn’t hydrogen that’s been produced in that process.

    It takes far more energy to produce that hydrogen than you’ll get back when you burn it. Who are they trying to kid? What a waste!

    Maybe if they can use focused solar light to generate the heat then it might be economical, but any other way would just be utterly foolish.

    Aside – it looks like the concept is at least 2 decades old.
    https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360319998000044

    The whole selling point seems to be the reduction of CO2 released into the atmosphere, which is idiotic, because the more CO2 in the atmosphere the better for plants and for all life on earth.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=57W3ZhOAkAE&feature=youtu.be&t=1446

    And NO it does NOT measureably adversely affect temperatures. That is pure fantasy.

    How utterly S T U P I D can people be?!

    1. SebastianH

      It takes far more energy to produce that hydrogen than you’ll get back when you burn it. Who are they trying to kid? What a waste!

      Apparently skeptics who think they have a better grasp at physics as those conducting the research on it 😉

      Maybe if they can use focused solar light to generate the heat then it might be economical, but any other way would just be utterly foolish.

      It’s not about being economical, it is about getting hydrogen for industrial processes in a way that doesn’t produce CO2 as well.

      Aside – it looks like the concept is at least 2 decades old.

      Yet no one has build a working machine that does it this way, soo … no innovation then? Phones are decades old as well, weren’t smartphones a innovation? Cars are around for over 100 years now, are new models coming out each year not innovations over previous models?

      The whole selling point seems to be the reduction of CO2 released into the atmosphere, which is idiotic, because the more CO2 in the atmosphere the better for plants and for all life on earth. […] And NO it does NOT measureably adversely affect temperatures. That is pure fantasy.

      Well, I’d like to repeat the last sentence of your comment here, but then my comment would like be deleted before getting posted, so … I guess we’ll see each other at the next international Mensa meetup, right?

      1. Yonason

        “It’s not about being economical, it is about getting hydrogen for industrial processes in a way that doesn’t produce CO2 as well.” – SebH

        Yes. Good for you, Sebastian! You have just succinctly and accurately restating my complaint. That is precisely why I’m critical of it.

        Don’t get me wrong. It’s a very interesting chem eng process. But it is being promoted for the wrong reasons. I’m not against them doing it, I’m just opposed to WHY they say they are; …or more precisely, why they may have to say what in order to justify it.

        The reported success is proof of concept for a process that might also have other applications which might actually prove worthwhile, and that is fine by me.

        Also, consider this.
        “Methane reacts at high temperatures with steam to yield the hydrogen used in the manufacturing of explosives and ammonia-based fertilizers.”
        https://www.reference.com/science/uses-methane-dcc9774ff787059a

        If the new process is a more practical and/or efficient method of H2 production, or at least no less efficient, that would certainly justify it.

  2. A.B. O'Brien

    Puts me in mind of a perpetual motion machine.

  3. Gerald the Mole

    I would like to have details on the energy balance of this process including the energy used to get tin and refine it.

    1. Steven Fraser

      And, perhaps, compare the energy used/hydrogen generated with a well-known process, such as electrolysis.

    2. RickWill

      The cranking requires 74kJ/mol of methane. Burning the hydrogen released from each mole of methane provides 572kJ. That means almost 8 times the energy available from the hydrogen combustion relative to the cracking energy.

      The 78% efficiency quoted may include the heat input from hydrogen combustion to drive the process as the theoretical chemical efficiency is 87%.

      By contrast if the methane was burnt in air it would produce 810kJ/mol. So it could be argued that the theoretic chemical/thermal efficiency is 498/810 or 61%. Of course there is presumably some pure carbon being produced, which has some economic return as well.

      1. Yonason

        Looks like I guessed correctly. The idea is to use solar energy to melt either Sn or Pb for the purpose. That seems like as good an application of solar as it gets.

        Here’s the best paper I could find on it so far.
        https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1876610214006699

        From Canadian research in 2014. Looks like a lot of people have been working on this for a long time in a number of countries.

        It also looks like it can be commercially viable, and yes, also as I thought, the process is being developed because it doesn’t generate CO2. Apart from the CO2 silliness, it’s a nifty new technology with good commercial potential. And, as tomO writes below, we can still always burn the Carbon. (CO2 removal is probably a good idea anyway, w/r to ensuring a purer H2 product?)

        Also, since H2 production is big business already, finding a way to do it using solar technology could minimize the need for fuel generated energy, which is always a good thing.

      2. Hans K Johnsen

        I think the Conversion rate relates to the fraction of methane that is converted to hydrogen and carbon for each batch bubbling through the column – and not energy efficiency.
        This means that some of the methane will have to go a second round through the column and probably also means that immediate carbon removal is very important, not to alter the equilibrium of conversion.
        I was once involved in development of SOFC – fuelcells. They were supposed to operate at 1000 degrees C. The material problems were enormous. Most metals lose their strength above 6-700 degrees C and to operate at 1200 degrees C would require either some pressure thight ceramics or VERY exotic metals in reactor and heat exchangers. Hydrogen is a very slippery substance that will leak through even metals and I can imagine a lot of issues with such a facility at these temperatures. So, one thing is Chemical efficiency, a totally different thing is economic efficiency, when real HSE, capex and opex is included. Can you imagine what a leak of 1200 degree C hydrogen meeting the athmosphere, would result in?

  4. A C Osborn

    For greens like Seb the cost does not matter, as long as they can make Hydrogen without creating CO2 it doesn’t matter.
    Just like wasting all that energy (of whatever type) to refine a Gas that has Far Less Energy than it did in it’s natural form.
    This means that we will need more expensive wasteful Hydrogen to do the same job as it would have.
    Loss upon Loss upon Loss.
    But don’t worry they are saving the world, instaed of the people that lost energy and cash could have been used for.

    1. SebastianH

      Hmm, I am guessing you don’t know anything about the industrial applications of hydrogen so you naturally go to the skeptic trope that using methane would be better.

      Next time, try to restrain yourself from writing when you have no clue.

      1. A C Osborn

        If Hydrogen is the requirement for non burning processes then where in the study does it lay out why this is a better method than cracking water, which liberates both Hydrogen and Oxygen and you still have methane as a fuel?

        1. SebastianH

          Currently the method of getting hydrogen from methane is more economical than using high grade electricity to get hydrogen from water. But CO2 gets emitted in the process. This method doesn’t emit CO2 and seems to work in a prototype machine for an extended period of time, that’s the innovation.

  5. Bitter&twisted

    Seems a lot easier just to burn the methane.
    Simpler, cheaper and less time-consuming😁

    1. tom0mason

      Yes but you get a bonus with this method –
      “Wetzel: “The carbon occurs as micro-granular powder that is easy to separate from the gas stream and easy to handle.”
      Carbon powder? Otherwise known as soot.
      Now added it to the brown coal of your coal powered generators and improve their performance. Kind of win-win(ish) 🙂

      As a method of making hydrogen it sounds fine.
      As a method of reducing the CO2 emissions from burning methane it’s a utter waste of time as more CO2 is needed in the air for plants to thrive.

    2. Yonason

      Why spend a couple of seconds striking a match to ignite the kindling when you can spend half an hour rubbing two sticks together. Don’t you want your Captain Planet merit badge? //s//

  6. Marek Frodis

    And what happens with all the Carbon that’s left after freeing of the Hydrogen?

  7. John Andrews

    Very pure carbon is needed for some types of nuclear reactors. This process may find uses for this purpose if the resulting carbon is pure.

  8. sasquatch

    Wouldn’t it be better to send a column of gasoline through the apparatus and obtain even more hydrogen atoms, hydrogen gas molecules, instead of just four hydrogen atoms or two hydrogen gas molecules from methane? lol

    Would the hydrogen break down to its atomic state first, then to the hydrogen gas molecule after cooling?

    Should probably know the answer for that.

    You use methane to manufacture anhydrous ammonia.

    Anhydrous ammonium

    A far better use of methane, hands down.

  9. Marek Frodis

    John Andrews;
    Lets think of commercial application of this process. How much carbon is needed for “some types of nuclear reactors” and how much will be left? Similar amounts or orders of magnitude difference?

  10. lucklucky

    Bad news. means smart people spend brain power in an apparent* useless technology.
    We still have many diseases to cure.

    *We never ultimately know where technology will take us.

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