Thrust Area III: High-purity hydrogen

Thrust III is geared toward fuel processing and reforming technologies for hydrogen production and separation as H2-fuel with applications in the proton exchange membrane fuel cell (PEMFC) technology. High-purity H2 is the fuel of choice in PEMFCs.

  • The research in Thrust III is focused primarily on the NSF programs of Chemical and Biological Separations (CBS), Energy Sustainability, Catalysis and Biocatalysis under the Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental & Transport (CBET) Systems Division to explore three specific challenging issues in reforming and fuel processing of biofuels for fuel cells.

Thrust III’s research team will develop robust membrane reactor-separator technology for simultaneous production and separation of hydrogen generated by steam reforming of alcohols, alkanes and biodiesels.

The performance of a PEMFC is heavily dependent on the quality of its H2-fuel source and its operating temperatures. Whether H2 is derived from biomass or coal gasification, trace amounts of CO and sulfur compounds (in ppm) in the H2-fuel are usually found, and they act as poisons to fuel cell electrocatalysts.

This research team also will investigate and develop CO- and H2S-tolerant, low-cost, low Pt-loading noble/transition metal electrocatalysts and a low-humidity, high-temperature solid electrolyte polymer membrane for PEMFCs.

Synergy with other thrust areas

The overarching goal of the biomass research at the bioenergy center is production of value-added chemicals through innovations. Hydrogen production and separation is a key activity in the use of biomass as energy source. Thrust III leads this effort.

  • Alkanes and alcohols from Thrust II will be utilized in Thrust III for extraction of hydrogen (through reforming reactions and membrane separations) as H2-fuel to PEMFC. Also, in Thrust I, the syngas ratio can be adjusted by selective separation of hydrogen if needed (Thrust III) for biofuel production (Thrust II).
  • Work on catalyst development in Thrust II (F-T synthesis and H2 production) and III (CO- and H2S-tolerant electrocatalysts) are closely related with underlying theme of synthesis of high surface area mesoporous substrates to support catalysts.
  • In addition, the membrane reactor-separator for H2 production and separation will use catalysts developed by Thrust II research team. This will demand strong collaboration and synergy between thrusts II and III.

The Thrust III research projects are not only closely related, but also have synergy with the research of the other thrust areas. H2 separation is a key technology that cross-cuts hydrogen production options whether it is biomass gasification; coal gasification; or steam reforming of alkanes, alcohols, and diesels.