Hydrogen Production Gets Cleaner: Now With Lower Carbon Monoxide

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Mercedes-Benz Hydrogen Fuel-Cell vehicle

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Hydrogen is often lauded as a fuel of the future--a way to offer the combined benefits of electric vehicles and combustion cars in one, simple package.

The reality is a little more complicated, as you might imagine. But one of hydrogen's long-standing issues, the cleanliness of its production, could change with a new technique.

As Science Daily reports, an existing problem with hydrogen production is a rather unhealthy byproduct--carbon monoxide.

The gas is toxic to humans and animals, and it's therefore advantageous to keep its creation to a minimum.

Engineers at Duke University have found a way to get around this by using a catalyst during the production of hydrogen, reducing carbon monoxide production to nearly zero.

In this case, the catalyst is a nanoparticle combination of gold and iron oxide. Such a combination is already used to "clean" the carbon monixide from hydrogen gas production, but Duke researchers found that catalysts with higher concentrations of iron oxide were more effective.

Their new method makes for a much more efficient process, reducing the amount of carbon monoxide in the hydrogen gas to just 20 parts per million.

That's good news not just for human health, but the health of a fuel cell too. The team's research is aimed at improving hydrogen production for use in fuel cell vehicles, but higher concentrations of carbon monxide can damage the membranes protecting the cells in a fuel cell--reducing its efficiency and life.

Combined with improved methods of extracting hydrogen--such as a new technique that treats biomass-derived methanol with steam to create a hydrogen-rich mixture--it makes the whole process not only greener, but healthier for both people and fuel cells alike.

Carmakers are still a good few years from developing affordable production fuel cell vehicles in any great quantity, but at the moment hydrogen is a difficult and energy-intensive gas to produce.

Research like this is important to ensure hydrogen is genuinely as green as the silver bullet reputation that precedes it.


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Comments (9)
  1. No such thing as a silver bullet, in any industry...

  2. I know the author knows this, but I don't think the article makes it clear that currently, hydrogen is made from fossil fuels. That is the process he is describing.

  3. If hydrogen is made from fossil fuels, what good is it? They'll still be drilling in our oceans and oil is a limited resource we've already been burning off at a ridiculous rate so the source is already depleted. I don't want to buy electricity and fuel forever, when electricity will due just fine on it's own.

  4. What good is it? How about shifting the "made from fossil fuels" to made from methane.. yes natural gas. The same fuel making electricity MUCH cleaner than coal. Same applies. Using nat gas to make H2 cuts CO2 emissions over 60% when run in a fuel cell car vs same car on gasoline. Thats "what good" it is. BTW, we don't import or drill in oceans for Nat Gas.

  5. Hydrogen needs a huge infrastructure, too, like pipelines, etc.

    I think the battery car will be the game changer.

  6. the size of the molecule makes moving H2 around, VERY difficult. what will most likely happen is NG will be transported in the EXISTING infrastructure and refined as H2 at its destination. so infrastructure costs will be part of the equation but not as bad as you think. still a waste of time in my mind. by the time we have a decent infrastructure, batteries may have improved enough to make the benefits of H2 (fast filling, etc) to be not cost effective. since money is the key driver in new technology, it might be a non-starter for most of us before it gets off the ground

  7. Okay, two questions:

    1. By "oxidizing CO", you are just turning it into CO2 while release energy. In this case, it sounds like it is "wasted".

    2. CO is heavier than H2 and it can be seperated mechanically.

    3. CO is already an energy source. It is part of the H2 production process since H2 is derived from other form of fossil fuels. Wasting it through a "catalyst" is making another strong case against H2 production.

  8. Xiaolong, see below. We are talking about PPM, Parts Per Million of CO, there is no "waste" here. The science breakthru is to simply use a more common element to cut the CO to near-zero PPM. Steam Methane Reformation is actually a very efficient process, done today, producing enough for cleaning up our gasoline at the refinery NOW that it would supply fuel for over 2 million fuel cell cars... today, each one a zero emissions car, and when factoring in "well to wheel" cutting CO2 65% from a gas car. As for "waste", the key is to waste MUCH LESS than the traditional well to wheel processes we do with gasoline cars today. H2 and Fuel Cell do so as do battery EV's. No sense splitting the hairs of difference. Enjoy.

  9. Oh my god... this article is so completely fraught with misinformation it should receive a "worst story of the year" award.
    - This interpretation of the "Science Daily" article proves the author has NO CLUE on the subject.
    - The process SD describes is Steam Methane Reformation, whereby a TINY percentage (parts per million) of CO is produced and is ONLY harmful to the fuel cell, with NO chance of impact to humans, as it is NOT released to atmosphere!
    - CO is measured only as a contaminant to the Hydrogen in PPM. (.002 as stated)
    - Research like this has NO bearing on it's "greenness" and certainly not on "health" rather only on purity and the ease of doing so.
    - His "difficult and energy intensive gas to produce" is just not true. OMG

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