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DOE to Award Up to $5M in Grants for R&D on Hydrogen Production from Coal

The US Department of Energy has issued up to a $5-million Funding Opportunity Announcement (DE-FOA-0000103) to solicit laboratory-level R&D projects to develop novel technologies for producing hydrogen from coal. The program, which is an initiative supportive of the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) Fuels/Hydrogen Program Area, is seeking applications in two areas: novel, non-precious metal hydrogen separation for use with coal-generated syngas; and general coal-based hydrogen production R&D.

The program is intended to reduce environmental concerns associated with energy use in automotive and stationary power applications through clean production of hydrogen from coal in tandem with carbon sequestration, and is to ensure availability of hydrogen in sufficient volumes for fuel cell-powered vehicles expected to enter the transportation market sector in the future, according to the FOA.

Worldwide demand for energy is growing at an alarming rate. Energy demand is expected to grow at an average of rate of 1.8% per year worldwide through 2030. The increased demand is being met largely by petroleum reserves, which are located outside of the United States. The United States imports more than 60% of its petroleum, two-thirds of which is used to fuel vehicles in the form of gasoline and diesel. This dependency makes the US vulnerable to supply disruptions. Alternative sources of fuel are necessary to maintain economic prosperity, quality of life, cost-competitiveness, and energy security. Electricity and hydrogen together represent one of the most promising ways to achieve these objectives.


Hydrogen can be produced domestically from various energy resources. Platinum group metals (PGM)—Platinum, Palladium, Rhodium, Ruthenium, Iridium and Osmium—currently play essential roles in hydrogen production and fuel cells technologies and to the commercialization of fuel-cell vehicles. Issues associated with current membrane development—including resistance to contaminants in syngas, temperature limitations, durability, and cost—have led to the need for alternative methods of producing hydrogen from coal-based facilities.

Topic 1: Novel, non-precious metal hydrogen separation. Hydrogen separation membranes may be used in a variety of locations in a gasification-based coal-to-hydrogen production process, depending on the capability of the membrane to withstand temperature and pressure conditions as well as variations in gas composition.

Hydrogen separation membranes have historically utilized precious Group VB and VIIIB metals, employed either as standalone membranes, alloys or coatings on highly permeable substrates. Commercial acceptance and deployment of hydrogen separation membranes utilizing Group VB and VIIIB metals could potentially have global economic and environmental impacts.

The PGM occur in nature in close association with one another, as well as with nickel and copper. Platinum and palladium are found in the largest quantities in most PGM ores, while rhodium, ruthenium, iridium and osmium are produced only as co-products. Global deposits of PGMs are quite limited with the largest quantities located in South Africa and Russia. Currently, there are fewer than ten significant PGM mining companies in the world with declining production over the past 10 years. With the limited global diversity of resources and production capabilities, the supply of these precious metals can be unduly influenced and therefore restrain the ability to deliver centrally produced hydrogen via membrane separation technologies, the FOA notes.

NETL 2015 Membrane Targets
H2 flux* 300 SCFH/ft2 (~150 sccm/cm2)
@ 100 psi ΔP H2 partial pressure.
Temperature 250 to 500 °C (482 to 932 °F)
Pressure performance ΔP 800 to 1000 psi
S tolerance > 100 ppm
CO tolerance Yes
WGS activity Yes
H2 purity 99.99%
*Standard conditions are 150 psia hydrogen feed pressure and 50 psia hydrogen sweep pressure.

In this topic area, DOE is seeking applications at the laboratory-level for innovative membrane materials, concepts and strategies which separate hydrogen from a coal-based system sufficiently enough to meet the DOE 2015 targets of flux, selectivity, cost and chemical and mechanical robustness, without the use of PGMs. Technologies of interest include, but are not limited to polymers, ceramics, metals, glasses, eutectic salts and combinations thereof, but must show potential to meet all DOE targets in testing strategies outlined in the NETL Membrane Test Protocol.

Topic 2: Hydrogen production R&D. Some of the issues associated with current membrane development, such as resistance to contaminants in syngas, temperature limitations, durability, cost, etc. have led to the need for alternative methods of producing hydrogen from coal-based facilities. However, the FOA notes, with the majority of hydrogen separations technology development leaning towards membranes, minimal work has been completed using alternative methods of successfully meeting DOE high-purity hydrogen targets.

DOE is seeking laboratory-level research exploring novel methods (thermochemical, electrochemical, photochemical, biological, organocatalysis, adsorption, etc.) for central hydrogen production implementing various methods via coal-based facilities.

These methods may include direct routes where high purity hydrogen gas is the primary product or indirect routes where, for example, synthetic natural gases or synthetic liquids, e.g, methanol, are first produced from coal then subsequently transformed to high-purity hydrogen; or any combination of such pathways.

Other feeds that can be implemented at these coal-based facilities to produce hydrogen include, but are not limited to, biomass, algae, water, carbon dioxide, industrial gases such as ammonia, or combinations thereof. These methods must meet the DOE 2015 targets of purity, hydrogen production rate, and costs. Processes based upon natural gas only and electrolysis of water are not sought.



I don't get this. They're going to dig coal out of the ground so they can seperate out the hydrogen and then shove the carbon back into the ground? Coal only has 4-6% hydrogen in it. There's more oxygen in coal than hydrogen.


I would rather see the government spend $500 million per year for 5 years on biomass gasification to biofuels like renewable methane. We would go a lot farther with dozens of those plants.


I really think this is just the gov throwing the coal industry dogs a bone. There's just too many voters in the coal states.


It may end up being very good; coal+ H2O --> H2 + CO2. (and no N2 as in coal combution in air). Since H2 is much smaller than CO2, it is relatively easy to separate. Actually, in natural gas plants, they already do separate CO2 and CH4 on industrial scale for decades.
So, if they can do the simple reaction to convert coal and water to H2 and CO2, the CO2 can efficiently and cheaply be separated and injected underground. The H2 can be used for many purposes.
Once these plants work an industrial scale, it's a small step to feed them with biomass, and still sequester the CO2. That will probably be the most economical and effective way to clean historical CO2 emissions.


No matter how much Lipstick you put on a's still a Pig.


Ok, look, it doesn't matter how you swap them around or what order you use them in. You get nowhere by going from one commodity to another. Especially if that commodity is not renewable. Swap gasoline for coal, or gasoline for diesel, or gasoline for natural gas, or gasoline for hydrogen made from coal, natural gas, or electrolysis of water where the electricity came from burning coal, natural gas,.... The thing you are switching to is going to go up in price and we are still on a nonrenewable, carbon based, fossil fuel. I am all for diversifying our fleet of cars but you can already run cars on gas, diesel, natural gas, electricity, or any number of renewable. 500M would be much better spend developing the infrastructure to diversify the current fleet. This will bring down fuel prices by using more stuff that not gasoline it makes it easier to introduce new renewable fuels. The easiest renewable to develop are going to run best in cars that can run on natural gas and diesel not gasoline. We are upside down and this does nothing to break us of carbon based fuel.

black ice

For those who don't understand why would one need coal/carbon to make hydrogen:
Hydrogen occurs naturally as its oxide - water. To get hydrogen from water one needs a reductant. All kinds of reductants can be used such as metals. For example if you place sodium in water an exothermic reaction will occur that will produce hydrogen and NaOH. Unfortunatelly, metals are expensive and themselves are
found as oxides in nature. The cheapest reductants found in nature is coal, nat gas, and oil. The reactions of these substances with water are highly endothermic, occur at high temperature, and produce hydrogen and carbon oxides. The first commercial process for hydrogen production (for ammonia synthesis) was from coke. Coke was intermittently heated up with a blast of air, then steamed until temperature dropped. A very simple process, yet it produced gas that could be converted into 99.9 % hydrogen suitable for ammonia synthesis. Electrolysis was used for hydrogen production on industrial scale only once - by the Norwegians from hydro.
Natural gas was used later because methane steam reforming is way simpler and produces much cleaner product.
Thus there is definitely room for improving the various gasification processes, and devise new ones, particularly with coal as the feedstock.


An Australin company has recently acquired coal leases in Wyoming for the production of syngas. Syngas is a mixture of H2 and CO. The company has developed a process to produce syngas in situ, i.e. the coal does not need to be mined. This process has been tested in Australia on a comercial scale. The hydrogen from the syngas can be readily separated from the CO and used for fuel or the the syngas can serve as the feedstock for the Fischer-Tropsch process to synthesis liquid fuel.

SASOL a South African company is another company that specializes in this area, as are many others.

The bottom line is US coal may be sent to China or India to be converted to electricity in thermal plants or converted to H2 and or liquid fuels in the US. It all depends on the economics.

This resource like so many others will make up the diverse energy picture in the future.

Either way the rabid environmentalists are out to lunch.


So they're continuing to beat this dead horse. Hydrogen is never (well, never say never) going to be a significant player in the conventional transportation sector. It's way too expensive and impractical, and we are on the verge of electric plugin cars with ranges of 400 km coming to market, or alternatively those with less range but with small range extending generators burning some liquid fuel. And solar panels are on the verge of becoming competitive, depending on where you live. You'd think that's where we should be investing our research money, to help it get over the hump which it is so close to surmounting.... but nope. On May 15 Chu announced 2.4 billion for carbon capture and storage and on May 27 only 115 million for solar energy. Is this from the coal lobby?

I'm sure hydrogen will have its applications, but not for fuel cell cars.

Neill Patrick Swan

I'm afraid the facts regarding pgm production are incorrect. Production of the three major pgm has in fact increased in the last 10 years by more than one and a half million ounces. See for detailed information on production of pgm in recent years.

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