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Electrified methane reforming: A compact approach to greener industrial hydrogen production

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Science  24 May 2019:
Vol. 364, Issue 6442, pp. 756-759
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaw8775

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More-efficient heating

Large-scale production of hydrogen through steam reforming directly produces CO2 as a side product. In addition, the heating of reactors through fossil-fuel burning contributes further CO2 emissions. One problem is that the catalyst bed is heated unevenly, which renders much of the catalyst effectively inactive. Wismann et al. describe an electrical heating scheme for a metal tube reactor that improves the uniformity of heating and catalyst usage (see the Perspective by Van Geem et al.). Adoption of this alternative approach could affect CO2 emissions by up to approximately 1% of global emissions.

Science, this issue p. 756; see also p. 734

Abstract

Electrification of conventionally fired chemical reactors has the potential to reduce CO2 emissions and provide flexible and compact heat generation. Here, we describe a disruptive approach to a fundamental process by integrating an electrically heated catalytic structure directly into a steam-methane–reforming (SMR) reactor for hydrogen production. Intimate contact between the electric heat source and the reaction site drives the reaction close to thermal equilibrium, increases catalyst utilization, and limits unwanted byproduct formation. The integrated design with small characteristic length scales allows compact reactor designs, potentially 100 times smaller than current reformer platforms. Electrification of SMR offers a strong platform for new reactor design, scale, and implementation opportunities. Implemented on a global scale, this could correspond to a reduction of nearly 1% of all CO2 emissions.

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