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Researchers develop new technology that generates hydrogen from natural gas

Researchers develop new technology that generates hydrogen from natural gas

The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) has revealed a new technology that generates hydrogen from conventional natural gas, or renewable natural gas made from biomass.

This innovative technology could be the next big thing to advance California’s hydrogen highway, fuel cell vehicles and trucks as well as creating other valuable products.

The key part of this hydrogen generation technology is tiny channels, about the width of a credit card, that transfers heat to efficiently drive the energy into chemical reactions that produce hydrogen for transportation, electricity generation and other industrial purposes.

Read more: Researchers develop catalyst for hydrogen production

This innovative PNNL-developed hydrogen generator has been licensed to cleantech start-up company STARS Technology with the hydrogen generator featuring in two recent projects that may drive down the cost of hydrogen.

The first is a new additive manufacturing process that has been licensed to both STARS and SoCalGas.

The second is a novel spiral reactor design that distributes heat more precisely and improves the reactor efficiency.

This design, exclusively licensed to SoCalGas, minimises the energy required to produce hydrogen while also increasing the reactor’s durability and safety.

Yuri Freedman, Senior Director of Research and Development at SoCalGas, said, “Because this technology offers a small footprint and substantially increases the efficiency of the process that reforms natural gas into hydrogen, it makes hydrogen much cleaner and easier to deliver—you could produce hydrogen anywhere there is a natural gas pipeline nearby.

“For us at SoCalGas, this is an important step toward meeting our goal to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions in our operations and delivery of energy by 2045.

“This technology could drastically change hydrogen production and use in California, advancing SoCalGas’ efforts to meet the climate objectives of California and our customers.”

Read more: New California hydrogen station retailing at $13.14/kg

With the STARS technology capable of generating hydrogen anywhere natural gas is available, developers say this technology could greatly reduce the need for hauling hydrogen in special high-pressure tube-trailers.

Eliminating on-road transit improves public safety, helps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and crucially helps make point-of-use hydrogen production cost competitive with conventional fuels.

Bob Wegeng, President of STARS Technology, said, “Think of these small, efficient, mass-produced generators as ‘chemical transformers’ similar to electrical transformers on the electric grid.

“They can be placed anywhere along the natural gas distribution system, so it becomes a ‘hydrogen grid’ by providing inexpensive hydrogen for filling stations in quantities that match on-site demand.”

North America’s hydrogen highway

California has been a beacon of success for hydrogen station and FCEV deployments since 2000, when the state’s first R&D hydrogen station was constructed in West Sacramento and the earliest R&D activities on FCEVs began there. Fast-forward to 2021, the sunshine state has 45 retail hydrogen stations, and station capacity has nearly doubled while the cost of these larger stations has decreased by 40% over the last few years.

Complementary to the growth in hydrogen refuelling stations, California is home to more than half of the global population of FCEVs, and has the largest number of FCEVs in the hands of private consumers in the world. To help lower emissions from the transportation sector, the state is calling for 200 hydrogen stations in retail operation by 2025, and five million zero emission vehicles on the road by 2030 – including both battery electric and FCEVs.

Get insight into North America’s hydrogen station market from Air Liquide, FirstElement Fuel and HTEC in this exclusive feature here.


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