Engineers at Leeds University are developing an environmentally friendly system that enables hydrogen to be extracted from waste materials, such as vegetable oil and the glycerol by-product of biodiesel.
The aim is to create the high-purity hydrogen-based fuel necessary not only for large-scale power production, but also for smaller portable fuel cells.
Dr Valerie Dupont from the School of Process, Environmental and Materials Engineering (SPEME), said: ‘We are investigating the feasibility of creating a uniquely energy efficient method of hydrogen production that uses air rather than burners to heat the raw product. Our current research will improve the sustainability of this process and reduce its carbon emissions.’
The system being developed at Leeds – known as Unmixed and Sorption-Enhanced Steam Reforming – mixes hydrocarbon-based fuel from plant or waste sources with steam in a catalytic reactor, generating hydrogen and carbon dioxide along with excess water. The water is then condensed by cooling and the carbon dioxide is removed in situ by a solid sorbent material.
Dupont added: ‘We firmly believe that these advanced steam-reforming processes have great potential for helping to build the hydrogen economy. Our primary focus now is to ensure the materials we rely on – both to catalyse the desired reaction and to capture the carbon dioxide – can be used over and over again without losing their efficacy.’
A grant of more than £400,000 has been awarded to the university to support the work by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) within a consortium of 12 institutions known as SUPERGEN Sustainable Hydrogen Delivery.