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DOE Funds More Hydrogen from Coal Projects

The US Department of Energy (DOE) recently announced the selection of six research and development projects that will promote the production of hydrogen from coal at large-scale facilities. Integral to the work is support for the capture and sequestration of the carbon dioxide generated during hydrogen production.

The large-scale production of hydrogen from coal faces several technological challenges that must be overcome before its widespread use becomes a reality, according to the DOE. To address these challenges, the new cost-shared projects will focus on two areas of interest:

  • Ultra-Pure Hydrogen. Hydrogen has the potential to be used in a number of end-use applications, each having its own purity standard. Some of these end uses include hydrogen turbines, fuel cells, and modified internal combustion engines. Three projects will focus on the development and scale-up of advanced materials and devices for producing ultra-pure hydrogen from coal-derived synthesis gas.

  • Process Consolidation. Strategies are needed for selectively removing pure hydrogen, carbon dioxide, and synthesis gas impurities in a single-reactor configuration that can operate simultaneously at high temperature and high conversion. Three projects will perform a combination of theoretical and experimental research to provide a scientific basis for consolidating multiple processes—synthesis gas cleanup, water-gas shift reaction, hydrogen separation, and carbon dioxide separation—into a single module.

The six projects total nearly $9.4 million in value, with DOE providing $7.4 million and industry partners contributing more than $1.8 million.

  • Praxair Inc. (Tonawanda, NY) will develop a device to purify hydrogen before it is fed to a proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell. At the heart of the device will be a palladium alloy-based hydrogen transport membrane that only allows hydrogen atoms to pass through its structure. The device will be integrated with a PEM fuel cell and designed such that, when it is produced in mass quantities, it is potentially the lowest-cost, most effective method to polish crude hydrogen, independent of the source. Praxair Inc. will be joined by Praxair Surface Technologies (Indianapolis, Ind.), the Colorado School of Mines (Golden, Colo.), and Boothroyd Dewhurst (Wakefield, R.I.). (DOE share: $1,226,962; industry share: $306,741; duration: 36 months)

  • Southwest Research Institute (San Antonio, Texas) will develop and demonstrate a durable, ultra-thin (less than 5 micron) hydrogen-separation membrane with excellent resistance to sulfur and halides. The palladium alloy-based membrane is expected to meet or exceed DOE’s cost and performance targets for 2010. Partners with Southwest Research Institute in this effort are the Colorado School of Mines (Golden, Colo.), Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, Pa.), and TDA Research (San Antonio, Texas). (DOE share: $1,199,049; industry share: $299,763; duration: 36 months)

  • United Technologies Research Center (East Hartford, Conn.) will undertake research, technology development, and economic analysis to further develop a sulfur-, halide-, and ammonia-resistant hydrogen-separation membrane. Based on alloys of palladium, copper, and transition metals, the membrane will potentially have commercially relevant hydrogen production flux and be capable of operating at high temperature and pressure. The United Technologies Research Center will collaborate with Power+Energy Inc. (Ivyland, Pa.) and Metal Hydride Technologies Inc., (Burlington, Vt.) for this research. (DOE share: $1,197,887; industry share: $299,490; duration: 24 months)

  • Media and Process Technology Inc. (Pittsburgh, Pa.) will explore a membrane-based “one box” process to generate low-cost hydrogen from coal. Cooled and particulate-free synthesis gas will be passed through a single reactor that converts the synthesis gas to hydrogen and carbon dioxide and separates the two using a carbon molecular sieve membrane. Bench-top testing will be conducted during year 1 of the 3-year project, slip-stream testing will be conducted in year 2, and pilot-scale testing and cost analysis will be performed in year 3. Partnering with Media and Process Technology will be the University of Southern California (Los Angeles, Calif.), Pall Corp. (Port Washington, N.Y.), and Southern Company (Wilsonville, Ala.). (DOE share: $1,291,872; industry share: $322,967; duration: 36 months)

  • Ohio State University (Columbus, Ohio) will develop a process to produce high-purity hydrogen from synthesis gas in a single-stage reactor. The process will employ a calcium looping scheme in which a patented calcium oxide sorbent removes carbon dioxide from synthesis gas by forming calcium carbonate; the calcium carbonate is calcined to produce a pure stream of carbon dioxide and calcium oxide, which is recycled back into the process. The continuous removal of carbon dioxide enhances the water-gas shift reaction—the conversion of synthesis gas into hydrogen and carbon dioxide—and enhances the purity and yield of hydrogen. Researchers at Ohio State will partner with Clear Skies Consulting (Cornelius, N.C.) and CONSOL Energy (Pittsburgh, Pa.). (DOE share: $1,249,838; industry share, $317,155; duration: 36 months)

  • Worcester Polytechnic Institute (Worcester, Mass) will investigate the use of composite palladium and palladium-alloy porous stainless steel membranes to reduce the number of unit operations needed to produce hydrogen from synthesis gas at an advanced integrated gasification combined cycle power plant. The research will include

    1. Developing processes to remove sulfur compounds from synthesis gas,
    2. Synthesizing composite palladium and palladium-alloy porous stainless steel membranes,
    3. Testing the membranes to demonstrate their effectiveness and long-term stability,
    4. Developing comprehensive process intensification and control and monitoring strategies, and
    5. Performing economic analysis.

Worcester Polytechnic Institute will collaborate with Adsorption Research Inc. (Dublin, Ohio) on this project. (DOE share: $1,249,920; industry share: $346,697; duration: 36 months)

    In September 2006, DOE announced $12.9 million in funding for six cost-shared research and development projects investigating different aspects of coal-to-hydrogen production and the utilization of hydrogen or hydrogen/natural-gas mixtures in combustion engines. (Earlier post.)



    This should make Roger happy.


    I'm relieved to see sequestration is integral to this. Has anyone tried to estimate well-to-wheel emissions for this and CTL?


    I'm no coal basher, but this seems a little silly, Coal is not a hydrogen-rich source, why just not burn it or convert it to an FT fuel? Is there an advantage to this that I'm missing?


    Some of this R&D might be useful with producing H2, for chemicals, from dirty feedstock. While it does not have the enormous market of auto fuels, it is still a big and lucrative sector.


    Coal is not a hydrogen rich fuel. I would be better for IGCC or better yet for SOFC/MCFCs where the CO can be used for fuel, the excess H2 burned in the after burner turbine, condense the water vapor and sequester the CO2.


    I respond to this kind of stuff these days with a big old "NOT WORTH IT!"

    Why are we pouring money into hydrogen still? If we insist on using coal gasification (please dear god, WITH carbon capture and sequestration), then simpy make electricity and use it to power plug-in hybrids. And while we're at it, let's divert some (or most) of that hydrogen R&D money to batteries which seem to be just 1-5 years away from market and rely on an existing infrastructure (the electrical grid) for fueling (as opposed to hydrogen fuel cells which are still at least a decade away from ready and have no fueling infrastructure).

    If the White House and the USDOE made a major R&D funding blitz and offered some 'kick start' tax incentives for advanced battery research and plug-in hybrid manufacturing, we could have plug-ins on the road in 2010, each one using roughly 60% less oil on a well-to-wheels basis! Make them flex-fuel plug-ins, and pour a similar effort into commercialization of cellulosic ethanol, and we could do even better (~85% reduction in well-to-wheels oil use!). That's the path to a diversified, indepenent, and significanlty more sustianable transportation future.

    Forget hydrogen. Plug-ins trump hydrogen any day.

    Robert McLeod

    Hydrogen is synthesized from coal and water:

    2CH + 2H2O + O2 -> 2H2 + 2CO


    And, yeah, it's an ugly idea, but it's the only way for hydrogen to appear economical.

    An Engineer

    This is as dumb as it gets: start with the dirtiest primary fossil fuel you can find, and turn it into a carrier fuel that is difficult (i.e. expensive) to store and transport as well as as hazardous as can be. Anybody got a dumber idea? Well, there is converting food into fuel...

    Gotta love Washington...


    why just not burn it or convert it to an FT fuel? Is there an advantage to this that I'm missing?

    What you propose don't have enough Pork in it.

    Roger Pham

    Thanks, Neil, for the thought.
    It's good to know that more efforts are being made to improve our energy security with respect to petroleum dependency. Transforming a very dirty fuel like coal to a very clean fuel like H2 is a good thing to do.

    I hope that the experience learned from coal gasification and H2 purification will apply directly to cellulosic biomass gasification.
    This will be the ultimate direction we should be heading toward. Of course, coal is still far cheaper than the cost of gathering up and preparing the waste biomass, so, economically, one is tempted to use it first. But coal carries with it a hidden cost of global warming and environmental devastation where the coal is mined, that will come knocking on our doors later on like a loan shark, extorting big interest payback. Besides, if we don't use the waste biomass, the bugs will digest it, and some will make methane that will be released in the atmostphere as a much more potent GHG than CO2. Other bugs will chew on the biomass to release the CO2 that, we human, being on top of the food chain, should have the first priviledge for that dubious honor.

    Those who favor battery electricity over H2 for transportation should rest assured that a H2-PHEV like the Ford Airstream will make the best use of both energy media. For more details and especially a lively discussion that follows, please look at a recent GCC article on the Ford Airstream Concept car.

    Henry Gibson

    Hydrogen and fuel cells are the buzz words that killed the electric car, so they must be supported. Natural gas is the only hydrogen rich fuel and even it gets a great deal of energy from its carbon. Ammonia is a fuel that has no carbon and can be stored almost as easy as propane, but it must be made from hydrogen, and is not well researched or understood as a fuel. The oxygen in water can be removed by the carbon in coal to just leave hydrogen and carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide can be separated and stored. Right now the carbon in natural gas is also reacted with water to get hydrogen. Coal is now a much cheaper and more reliable source of energy in the US than oil or natural gas so it must be used. It is better used in power plants to recharge batteries than to make hydrogen.

    Every body thinks that Lithium ion batteries are the only batteries that can be used in electric or hybrid cars because they show the most promise of high energy density. Fusion power has the highest energy density of any heat source, but in spite of efforts starting in 1942, there has not been one net unit of energy delivered to any light bulb anywhere. Nickel Cadmium, Nickel Iron, Nickel Metal Hydride, Lead Acid and other battery types are all useful for plug in hybrids right now as well as electric cars. One hundred (100) kilometer electric cars were succesfully tested in Europe ten years ago. EFFPOWER in Sweden and ATRAVERDA in England have technology for high power lead acid batteries for hybrid cars that might be able to replace the Prius battery with the same performance at the same weight at far less cost. Firefly in the US is also developing similar batteries. Batteries are not a problem, but cheap mass production of them is. The Lithium Ion technology was dealt a major setback by the overheating of a few computer batteries and the recall of millions. With modern electronics to compensate for voltage variations and new designs and modern manufacturing methods, the Edison Nickel Iron battery is a useful choice again for low cost very long life batteries. There may be some Edison Batteries still in service after one hundred years.

    For best service, no maintenance and high reliability for electric cars or Plug in Hybrids, the Zebra battery from MES-DEA is the only suitable battery in mass production for cars (or submarines). Since it is already hot (and in a highly insulated case) it can be used in any climate with very simple cooling. It can also withstand fire conditions that would cause Lithium batteries to at least burst into flame. It requires no expensive platinum as do fuel cells and the WELL-TO-WHEEL efficiency is much better at lower cost than any fuel cell is predicted to be, and reqires no major change in infra structure.

    Because the energy density of hydrocarbon fuels is so high and to respond to the limited nature of any battery, no electric car should be built without a small engine powered generator and a small fuel tank. With modern electronics the engine generator can weigh less than ten pounds. Such a machine could run the car with a dead battery at 20 mph, and higher speeds are available for partially charged batteries for tens or even hundreds of miles depending on the tank size and the availability of fuel stations. Modern technology can and has built a lightweight diesel that can do the same job with a little extra weight. (OPOC by APT) Diesel burning hybrid busses can use Capstone microturbines for almost zero engine maintenance and very low emissions. Mass production is all that is needed, and no technology advances at all are needed for electric and plug in hybrid vehicles....


    DOE spends $7.4M in cafeteria costs annually - this may not be good science - but it's not going to tank the R&D coffer. I kinda look at these as education grants that might get a young mind thinking about H2 alternatives.

    Vertical applications for FCs do have a place in today's environment - like the LiftOne truck:

    And no one (here) has taken a swing at finding renewable substitutes for jetfuel. A very carbon intense sinkhole.


    I agree with most posters; coal in the ground is safely pre-sequestered carbon and we should leave it that way. Without endorsing nuclear it should be pointed out the waste is measured in cubic metres but CO2 can be measured in cubic kilometres. That would seem to make effect disposal of coal emissions orders of magnitude more difficult. Maybe the 20% of current GHGs that climate scientists say the environment can absorb can be used in making and using jet fuel. Even that should be carefully monitored.


    I suppose the Carbon could be reacted with calcium to create calcium carbonate if one could find a large enough source for the calcium without degrading the current lime material to get it (thus creating a circular problem), but what I am wondering is if there is any way to render the carbon oxygen bond directly and just extract the carbon as solid? A reaction that produced C and O2 (can't get a subscript in here) would be environmentally benign as far as I can see, but I don't know of any and my chemistry classes are far behind me. Pure carbon has all kinds of structural uses and would be quite valuable in electronics too, over the coming years.

    Oh and as to the battery vs. hydrogen debate. May I point out a minor detail? Both a battery driven and a fuel cell driven car are electric cars, only the method of generation of the electricity varies. Now for a major gripe, while I suppose the wall socket powered set around here is correct in there assertions of the potential efficiencies for plug in electrics I must once again point out that both the rolling brownouts of California and the series of blackouts from '64 (I believe was the first I recall) to the present in the US Northeast, as well as the enormous grid destruction that follows every major hurricane, tornado, and earthquake here as well as some thunderstorms demonstrates why many, many normal folks are loath to trust there ability to bug out from a natural disaster to something that may be just as dead as the rest of their electrical devices when the time comes. As difficult as it is to understand, when the crunch comes I can carry a can of gasoline to my car and get out, but I can't carry a can of electricity. What is your solution for those times when my wife manages to run her battery dead just as she has run her gas tank dry in the past? The electrical grid is terribly overloaded, major power line construction is a political hot button in most places, especially the more crowded areas where you would need them most, to my knowledge almost no major new generating facilities have been built in the US in years, and even so-called progressive liberals like Kennedy become NIMBY's when you propose to obstruct their seaside view. It's not that I disagree from a technical view, but some of you folks are as politically naive as I've ever seen. PHEV's , be they hydrogen or conventionally fueled, are the best bet you’re going to get for now, but you better be willing to work with the power utilities to get the electric infrastructure upgraded or your just spitting in the wind.



    You apparently base your analysis on media-hyped PR releases, which are overblown from the start by themselves. It is not a good source of information to start with.
    Just my piece of opinion, to assist you with your search. Wikipedia helps a lot.


    Rafael Seidl

    There are valid energy security reasons for switching from foreign oil to domestic coal. However, IMHO the best way to deal the additional CO2 produced is to post-process it in intensive algaculture. It may make sense to temporarily store the CO2 produced at night/in winter for post-processing during the day/in summer, completely bypassing the need to endlessly argue about how safe/permanent underground CO2 sequestration really is (cp. the Yucca mountain saga aka NIMBYism run amok).

    The net result is cheap electricity (e.g. for PHEVs/BEVs) plus biodiesel (for HDVs and T2B5 LDVs). This combo leaves more crude oil in the ground, where nature has already sequestered the carbon for us.

    Hydrogen produced using high-temperature electrolysis using solar heat and electricity can double BTL yields, producing yet another source of renewable diesel substitute.

    Ergo, the strategy should not be to switch from gasoline ICEs to hydrogen PEMs but rather, to electric vehicles for short and diesels for medium-to-long range operation. The available fuel and its on-board storage determines the propulsion technology, not the other way around.

    Roger Pham

    Diesel fuel from BTL or CTL is an intermediate step when there is still a lot of coal around, since all forms of biomass combined are only sufficient for about 30% of today's energy requirement.
    To synthesize diesel fuel from H2 derived from solar or wind energy will require a source of high CO2 concentration such as exhaust of power plants fueled by coal or natural gas. Same with algae bioreactor into biodiesel.

    In the future, the day will come when there will not be much coal or natural gas lying around to feed into power plants, so there won't be much high-CO2 exhaust gas available for your algae bioreactor, nor for your F-T synthetic plant for producing diesel fuel from solar or wind H2. Then, the most expedient solution is to use the H2 just as it is being produced locally, and dispense it right into the vehicles or the power plant without having to transport it to any long distance.

    What about PHEV's ability to reduce diesel demand so that biomass alone will have a chance to supply the necessary diesel fuel? Unlikely, given the volume of long-distance trucking and air travel. Then, the most expedient solution is use the H2 directly for long-haul trucking in compressed form, and aerospace in Liquid H2 form. Battery electricity will not be able to power long-distance trucks nor jetliners.

    The technologies for the H2 economy must be developed and perfected today if it is going to be ready for deployment in the future. There is usually a long lag time between laboratory research phase and final commercialization phase.

    But, even more importantly, can we afford to wait, under the current rate of global warming, until we run out of oil, natural gas or coal before jumping into the H2 economy? I think not!!! The best form of carbon sequestration is to leave coal and oil underground, while moving as fast as possible toward the H2 and battery electric economy!
    For algae bioreactor, this means to produce the algae oil or biomass, then produce the H2 from the biomass to use as fuel, while store the CO2 and recycle it back again to grow more algae biomass.


    Has anyone thought of using the earth to compress hydrogen? More precisely, what stops a company from running two cables down into the ocean 10,000 feet and supplying the cable with wind powered elecrtricity, thereby producing hydrogen from the ocean at a pressure of 4454 psi. The hydrogen would be collected at depth and piped, at a collection pressure of 4454 psi, up to a surface collection station and further into existing high pressure gas distribution infrastructures.

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