Hydrogen Production Method Could Bolster Fuel Supplies

November 28, 2004 by Jeff Shepard

Researchers at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory and ceramics company Cerametec Inc. (Salt Lake City, UT) reported that they have found a way to produce pure hydrogen with less energy than other methods, which would help move the country closer to the Energy Department's goal of a hydrogen economy for use in fuel cells and for automotives.

The heart of the plan is an improvement on the most convenient way to make hydrogen, which is to run electric current through water, splitting the H2O molecule into hydrogen and oxygen. The new method involves running electricity through water that has a very high temperature. As the water molecule breaks up, a ceramic sieve separates the oxygen from the hydrogen. The resulting hydrogen has about half the energy value of the energy put into the process.

The overall goal is to create a reactor that could produce about 300 MW of electricity for the grid, enough to run about 300,000 window air-conditioners, or produce about 2.5 kilos of hydrogen per second. When burned, a kilo of hydrogen has about the same energy value as a gallon of unleaded regular gasoline. However, fuel cells, which work without burning, get about twice as much work out of each unit of fuel. So if used in automotive fuel cells, the reactor might replace more than 400,000 gallons of gasoline per day.