Major milestone in hydrogen research

Researchers in the US are reporting a significant development in their efforts to help North America advance toward a clean hydrogen economy.

Researchers at the US Department of Energy’s Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory and Ceramatec of Salt Lake City are reporting a significant development in their efforts to help the USA advance toward a clean hydrogen economy.

Laboratory teams have announced they’ve achieved a major advancement in the production of hydrogen from water using high-temperature electrolysis. Instead of conventional electrolysis, which uses only electric current to separate hydrogen from water, high-temperature electrolysis enhances the efficiency of the process by adding substantial external heat, such as high-temperature steam from an advanced nuclear reactor system.

Such a high-temperature system has the potential to achieve overall conversion efficiencies in the 45 percent to 50 percent range, compared to approximately 30 percent for conventional electrolysis. Added benefits include the avoidance of both greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel consumption.

“We’ve shown that hydrogen can be produced at temperatures and pressures suitable for a Generation IV reactor,” said lead INEEL researcher Steve Herring. “The simple and modular approach we’ve taken with our research partners produces either hydrogen or electricity, and most notable of all achieves the highest-known production rate of hydrogen by high-temperature electrolysis.”

This development is viewed as a crucial first step toward large-scale production of hydrogen from water, rather than fossil fuels.

“We’re pleased that the technology created over the nearly two decades dedicated to high-temperature fuel cell research at Ceramatec is directly applicable to hydrogen production by steam electrolysis,” said Ashok Joshi, Ph.D., Ceramatec chief executive officer. “In fact, both fuel cell and hydrogen generation functionality can be embodied in a single device capable of seamless transition between the two modes.”

The hydrogen production rate achievement of 50 normal litres (standard temperature and pressure) of hydrogen per hour is an initial result, midway through a more than three-year effort by a team of researchers at the INEEL that includes Herring, Carl Stoots, James O’Brien, Will Windes and Paul Lessing.

US Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham recently announced a grant of nearly $2 million to a Ceramatec-led effort teaming with the INEEL, the University of Washington and Hoeganaes Corporation to continue work in the broad area of high-temperature electrolysis and fuel cell development.

This new grant will work to enlarge by 100 times the size of a hybrid solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) that is capable of co-generating high-purity hydrogen and electric power from natural gas. The program will build on a cell stack architecture of alternating flat cells and gas distribution plates invented at Ceramatec for NASA.

“Cell designs and fabrication processes, which are scalable to a commercially practical size, are essential to securing our energy future,” commented Ceramatec senior engineer Joseph Hartvigsen, who will lead the project.