Energy

Thin membrane plugs big hole in the hydrogen economy

Thin membrane plugs big hole i...
The new technology will allow hydrogen to be transported long distances in the form of ammonia and reconverted at the destination
The new technology will allow hydrogen to be transported long distances in the form of ammonia and reconverted at the destination
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The new system uses a metallic membrane to separate hydrogen and ammmonia
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The new system uses a metallic membrane to separate hydrogen and ammmonia
The new technology will allow hydrogen to be transported long distances in the form of ammonia and reconverted at the destination
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The new technology will allow hydrogen to be transported long distances in the form of ammonia and reconverted at the destination
Diagram of the CSIRO process
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Diagram of the CSIRO process

Some see hydrogen as the energy medium of the future, but getting it from the producer to the consumer is one of the biggest problems in creating a hydrogen economy. To help bridge this gap, Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) is developing a metallic membrane that helps convert ammonia into high-purity hydrogen for fuel-cell powered vehicles.

Hydrogen has many positives as an energy medium. It's the most abundant element in the universe, it burns clean, it's non-toxic, and it's excellent for use in fuel cells. However, it does have a number of very large disadvantages. One of the biggest is that hydrogen molecules are so small and light that the gas is very difficult to transport and store.

Among other things, a hydrogen economy would require a whole new pipeline infrastructure because hydrogen embrittles the steel used in natural gas pipelines and requires high pressure. In addition, hydrogen is a low energy density medium, so to be economical, it requires very special storage systems. This usually means storing the gas under high pressures of 350 to 700 bar (5,000 to 10,000 psi), as a cryogenic liquid cooled to −252.8° C (−423° F), absorbed into solids like metal hydrides, or a combination of these.

Diagram of the CSIRO process
Diagram of the CSIRO process

Another alternative is to store the hydrogen chemically. By combining hydrogen with nitrogen to produce ammonia (NH3), many of the problems are solved. Ammonia can be stored at room temperature, it's already widely transported, which is useful for countries like Australia with ambitions to become hydrogen exporters, and it can be easily converted back into hydrogen by passing it over a catalyst to release hydrogen and nitrogen gas.

The new system uses a metallic membrane to separate hydrogen and ammmonia
The new system uses a metallic membrane to separate hydrogen and ammmonia

The tricky bit is to recover enough of the hydrogen in a pure form to be economical. CSIRO's approach is to use a membrane reactor technology incorporated into a modular unit that can be installed at the point of delivery, including a fuel-cell car refueling station.

The membrane is designed to allow the smaller hydrogen molecules through while blocking the larger nitrogen molecules. This way, by passing a pressurized stream of a hydrogen/ammonia mix past the membrane, the output is purified hydrogen.

The CSIRO is confident that this technology has the potential to create an Australian hydrogen export industry that could rival liquid natural gas.

Source: CSIRO

11 comments
S Michael
Good for Australian a forward looking country, while everyone else are looking at their navel.
JanKlaassen
The main problem here is the ammonia, this is produced with the Haber-Bosch process, which is EXTREMELY carbon dioxide intensive. Methane+water=carbon monoxide+ hydrogen Carbon monoxide+water=more hydrogen+ carbon dioxide Reaction temp= 950 degrees C= more carbon dioxide On an (older) Kelogg ammonia unit of about 900/950 mt /day of ammonia needs: About 27,000 cbm of natural gas for feedstock ( the methane) And about 25,000/30,000 cbm of fuel gas for furnaces etc etc BOTH. PER HOUR!! Enjoy
highlandboy
Thanks#Janklaassen. In their rush to promote simple "green" technology too many people make the mistake of ignoring the complexity of the science. While they may yet develop a technique to synthesise​ amonia hat is carbon neutral, this proposal is only a partial solution. And as such is not a particularly green solution.
-dphiBbydt
Sounds like technology encouraged by the increasingly desperate petrochemical industrial complex. Methane (a major greenhouse effect causing gas) is converted using very high temperatures (see JanKlaassen's comment) to ammonia producing prodigious quantities of carbon dioxide. The transporting the ammonia is dangerous in itself - ammonia is one of the most dangerous, lung dissolving chemicals in common usage. Converting it to hydrogen - one of the most reactive and explosive gasses - and compressing it takes more energy. The fact that hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe (and the implication that therefore we should use it) is just nonsensical. Yes, it's abundant in its elemental form - in stars. It's not abundant in its usable elemental form on earth - it takes considerable resources to make it viable as an energy storage medium.
LeroyEssek
The safest and cleanest method to safely store "green" hydrogen and oxygen fuel is in any type of fresh, ocean, brackish, toxic, sewage or swimming pool water. The company that was funded by the co-founder of GoPro Camera has discovered a quantum leap for a self sustaining hydrogen on demand technology. This isn't your grandfather's technology needing external electricity, electrolysis of water, steam reformation or natural gas, catalyst or using liquid ammonia for transporting hydrogen gas. Located at the Kennedy Space Center is the headquarters for the 21st Century Technology of Joi Scientific. Enjoy investigating this revolutionary-green technology that can produce zero pollution energy lower that using oil, gasoline, diesel, natural gas or coal.
guzmanchinky
I still prefer the idea of a quick charging battery of some kind. Having an explosive under pressure in a vehicle just bothers me somehow.
Chaostheory
I don't see an end to oil as it could be used to produce hydrogen and electricity on site, with better carbon capturing than can be done in a car
JanKlaassen
Checked out Joi Scientific and I hope that it is true-really. There is off course a but-their site has no sunstantiation to their claims, nor partners/investors listed. Looks like a VC trap. https://www.joiscientific.com. Best guess is algae/enzyme with possible DNA augmented tech. Lets hope, the year 2100 will be unrecognisable anyway. Enjoy
Techtwit
Leroy, I suggest you visit "https://www.extremetech.com/extreme/223128-energy-company-claims-breakthrough-that-will-revolutionize-hydrogen-economy-without-evidence" and study it before you publicly endorse what appears to be yet another "new tech" scam. Then maybe feel sorry for anybody who has invested money in what appears to be a modern snake oil scheme.
DanielWilliams
Surprisingly, hydrogen can be transported via polyproplyene pipes without leakage. French studies conclusively reveal that hydrogen has no problem being transported through plastic, and the Leeds H21 City Gate report further demonstates the efficacy of using hydrogen to replace natural gas in modern plastic pipeline networks. http://www.re-update.com/2017/03/15/hydrogen-poised-centre-zero-carbon-transition/