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On-Site Steam Methane Reforming Unit for Hydrogen Refueling Station

An earlier version of the ASMR in the lab. Source: Modine Manufacturing.

Modine Manufacturing Company and Chevron Technology Ventures are expanding their collaboration and entering a second phase in the development of on-site hydrogen generation technology for hydrogen fueling stations.

In collaboration with Chevron and BASF Catalysts LLC, Modine developed a highly integrated Advanced Steam Methane Reformer (ASMR). The ASMR will be a component of a purified hydrogen unit (PHG) that will be used in a hydrogen refueling station in Michigan, designed and built by Chevron Hydrogen Company.

We combined our thermal management and manufacturing expertise with BASF’s catalyst development and application knowledge, along with Chevron’s process development experience in the field of steam methane reforming. This led to a highly efficient and cost competitive product.

Our prototype reformer remains on test, logging more than 1,000 hours since April 2005, with excellent results while maintaining steady performance.

—Mark Baffa, Modine’s Director of Fuel Cell Products Group

Design of the ASMR prototype. Click to enlarge.

Modine and Chevron Technology Ventures announced the ASMR reformer technology in April, 2005 and are testing it at a Chevron lab in Houston, Texas. In the next phase, the PHG will be coupled with a compressor, and storage and dispensing systems at the fueling site to supply hydrogen in a quality needed for hydrogen fueled vehicles.

The new PHG will be installed at Chevron’s Hydrogen Energy Station on a United States military base in Selfridge, Michigan, near Detroit, and will provide hydrogen for a fleet of light-duty fuel-cell vehicles. The PHG is expected to be installed and operational starting in the summer of 2007. The Michigan location will be one of the first cold climate areas where this technology is tested.

The fin geometry. Click to enlarge.

The new compact reformer design features mechanical as well as thermal integration of the steam reforming, catalytic oxidizer, and water-gas shift reactions in a single vessel. Concentric fin-type heat exchangers coated with catalysts allow the heat generated by the endothermic oxidizing reaction to be directly transferred to the endothermic steam reforming reaction. The design is thermally neutral and requires no external cooling and no control loops, and improves the energy balance of an SMR system.

The ASMR reactor incorporates patent-pending technology from Modine and Chevron, which includes catalyst-coated heat exchangers. These heat exchangers provide high efficiency through their compact and integrated reactor technology.

—Mark Voss, Modine Fuel Cell Products Group Engineering Manager

The process chemistry for small-scale SMR is the same as in a large scale refinery, but with severe economy-of-scale penalties. In the paper presented at the National Hydrogen Association conference in 2005, the Chevron Ventures (then ChevronTexaco) and Modine authors noted:

Traditional SMR employs a combination of direct and indirect heat transfer, where heat is generated oxidizing auxiliary fuel to provide the necessary thermal energy for the steam reforming reaction... product gases (reformate) generated by the steam reforming reaction are then typically cooled, using a heat exchanger, to a desired temperature range necessary for the subsequent water-gas shift (WGS) reaction to occur.

Although the process chemistry remains the same for a small scale SMR (50 – 100 kg/day H2) when compared to a large scale refinery SMR, there are severe economy of scale penalties related to capital costs for small-scale SMR-based hydrogen energy stations.

In addition, natural gas reforming is a relatively high temperature process. Scaling the process down from larger systems results in greater heat losses that contribute directly to lower production efficiency, higher operating costs, and ultimately higher cost of hydrogen.

To address these challenges, the project approach aims at developing a small-scale SMR that is: (1) thermally and mechanically integrated to maximize heat recovery, minimize heat loss, and minimize balance of plant components, (2) able operate at pressure required for purification step to minimize electrical power consumption, and (3) thermally balance to achieve passive temperature control and to minimize the number of process control loops.

Each reactor vessel is designed to produce 40 kg of hydrogen per day. The reformer’s maximum reformer hydrogen production rate is 55 kg/day, based on 145 kg/day of natural gas input.



Robert Schwartz

Skip the reformer, run your car on CNG.

allen Z

Dead on Robert. Modified diesel engines could run on it.


What uses less energy? Burning methane or reforming methane and burning hydrogen (or running a fuel cell)? I can tell with 100% certainty it's the former. You don't have to be a chemist, it's simply the 2nd law of thermodynamic.


Don't be so sure. 55kg of H2 is 7810 MJ. 145kg of NG is 7975 kg. Their paper indicates only 36 kWh/day of electricity, for another 130 MJ. According to these numbers the H2 output contains about 96% of the input energy. This H2 output needs purification, which involves additional losses (25%???) and I probably also need to correct the H2 energy from HHV to LHV. But if fuel cell efficiency is 50% vs. 20% for a CNG combustion engine then the H2 path could easily come out ahead on energy efficiency.

Yes I Am a Rocket Scientist

A diesel running on CNG can achieve nearly 50% efficiency, and fool-cells don't attain in practice the efficiences often claimed. Even worse, this does absolutely nothing to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels.

Roger Pham

Of course, CH4(methane) is among the greatest H2 carrier. A vehicle can travel 3.2 x further on compressed CH4 than on compressed H2 at the same pressure. It is a bit foolish to make H2 when you already have CH4. An ICE-hybrid vehicle can be make to run on both CNG and H2 using the same tank. The only time H2 makes sense as a fuel is when you make it from high-temp solid oxide electrolysis cell at ~45-50% thermal efficiency.


If you use SNG, synthetic natural gas made from biomass, you could run a diesel hybrid and be CO2 neutral. A diesel hybrid like the 1999 Ford Prodigy PNGV car got 70 mpg and seated 5 with a trunk in a sedan design. It ran on diesel fuel, but it could have been run on hydrogen. I would say that would be a pretty efficient and clean design.


I think tank to wheels, the only thing that beats a fuel cell is a battery EV. I'm a bit skeptical about the 50% efficient CNG diesel.

The PNGV vehicle from Ford was nice. But, it would be expensive. Not sure about its crashworthiness.


One of the environmental advances of the fuel cell compared with the ICE is the lack of NOx emissions. This apart from the efficiency of the FC. To me also a gas ICE with 50% efficiency seems to be a bit optimistic


Fuelcell are a waste of energy.
On page 23 - the million dollar fuel cell prototype doesn't even match the CNG Prius in MPG using the same amount of CNG. Yet, the FCV uses much more advanced batteries then the Prius to help its efficiency.

For more info on this car go to

Where does all the waste from the rest of the CNG go when transferring it to Hydrogen.

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