|The consortium research will develop technologies to improve the performance of a number of alternative cycles for the thermochemical production of hydrogen. Click to enlarge. Source: NREL|
Under a $2.4 million research grant designated from the US Department of Energy’s (DOE) Nuclear Energy Research Initiative (NERI), Penn State is leading a consortium in a three-year project to establish the most efficient technologies for hydrogen production that are compatible with nuclear-generated heat sources.
One of the scopes of NERI is to develop a number of thermochemical cycles for producing hydrogen on a commercial scale through advanced nuclear energy systems. In a thermochemical cycle water and heat are the input, hydrogen and oxygen are the only products, and all other chemicals are recycled.
Researchers in the project—Advanced Electrochemical Technologies for Hydrogen Production by Alternative Thermochemical Cycles—will investigate a number of prospective thermochemical cycles and key reactions via experimental work and process simulation to evaluate their efficiency and viability for future sustainable energy infrastructure. Other members of the consortium include Argonne National Laboratory, University of South Carolina and Tulane University.
There are several promising alternative thermochemical cycles merit further research, according to the team: three copper-chloride (Cu-Cl) reactions; three calcium-bromide (Ca-Br) reactions; and two active alloy metal reactions. Potential benefits of these cycles include medium temperature (≤600°C) operation, high efficiency, simple unit operations, and relatively simple separations.
The Penn State-led project concerns the development of advanced electro-chemical technologies, which will lead to overall improvement in cycle performance. The work will focus on the following tasks:
Development of membranes, electrocatalysts, electrode materials, and membrane electrode assemblies (MEA) for all of the cycles;
Separation of reaction products;
Identification and modeling of species involved in the electrochemical processes; and
Flowsheet analyses to guide the experimental program towards higher efficiency and lower cost processes.
Material demands for these alternative cycles are expected to be less severe than at the temperature required for the baseline sulfur cycle (i.e., 825°C). While this project is primarily concerned with alternative thermochemical cycles, the technologies developed will be applicable to Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) electrolyzers and other hydrogen production processes.
Research conducted by four Consortium members in many aspects will rely on mutual expertise in particular areas. Joint data analysis and selection of prospective directions and systems will be made at review meetings. It is also anticipated that consortium activities will be a part of the International Nuclear Energy Research Initiative (INERI), and a strong collaboration with Atomic Energy Canada, Ltd. and a number of Canadian universities will be developed.
On 30 August 2007, DOE announced the selection of 11 university-led teams to conduct state-of-the-art research on nuclear energy with a total funding amount of $30.7 million, one of which is the Penn State project.