To develop a CO2 emission-free society, hydrogen should be produced without CO2 emission. Today this is possible via electrolysis with clean electricity sources, for example wind and solar or with CO2 capturing and storage in relation with current hydrocarbon-based processes.
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There is however another possibility to produce hydrogen without CO2 emission. TNO has been working on the EMBER technology which is a methane pyrolysis technology that produces hydrogen without CO2 emission. This technology uses a hydrocarbon feedstock like pipeline gas, fuel gas or associated gas and no carbondioxide storage is needed. The carbon atom will be converted in to a valuable product: solid carbon.
Development with partners
In relation to the program VoltaChem, TNO has drawn up a technology development approach that we are assessing together with international hydrogen and carbon industry stakeholders. To further develop this technology, TNO is inviting partners from the following sectors to participate:
- Natural gas suppliers and producers;
- Technology developers and licensors active in the hydrogen and solid carbon value chain;
- Industrial gases producers;
- Operators in the refinery, petrochemical, fertilizer, solid carbon, steel and aluminum industry;
- Fuel gas producers;
- Locations interested to host the pilot plant that will be developed.
Are you interested in becoming our partner?
Get in touch with Willem Frens.
No CO2 during production
The standard processes to produce hydrogen are steam methane reforming or partial oxidation processes. These processes, as well as the conventional process to produce solid carbon, release lots of CO2.
With methane pyrolysis processes the problem of CO2 production (which is emitted in atmosphere or captured & stored) can be largely resolved because the C atom from the hydrocarbon is converted into valuable solid carbon. In other words, the two CO2 emitting processes are combined into a process that produces two valuable products where no CO2 is released.
A Unique technology
Methane pyrolysis technologies like the EMBER ‘Molten metal methane pyrolysis’ technology have been around for a long time. Companies like Gazprom (Russia) have indicated this type of technologies as one of the promising technologies of the future to process natural gas into hydrogen without CO2 emission.
A number of other initiatives and consortia are working on methane pyrolysis. TNO adds a unique technology (for which a patent has been filed) which can solve one of the main challenges of the molten metal methane pyrolysis technology. It is the effective separation of the carbon from the molten metal using a molten salts concept.
To improve this carbon-molten metal separation process, as well as to deal with other research topics to improve the EMBER technology, additional research is needed. Examples of technology areas that need to be investigated further during the next years would be:
- Improving the quality of the produced carbon by temperature, pressure and retention time in the reactor;
- Determining the impact of hydrodynamics of the bubble column reactor on the production and separation of carbon produced;
- Best choice of material for construction of the reactor column;
- Integration of downstream processes and purification with the reactor vessel;
- The impact of impurities (eg. H2S) on the reactor and downstream processing;
- Looking into the best ways to scale-up the process to industrial scale for different use cases;
- Define other waste-stream molecules that can be converted, which interesting molecules can be produced using the molten metal pyrolysis process.
Winning the Enlightenmentz 2019 election
Methane pyrolysis techniques have the attention and traction from of the scientific and industrial world. For instance, in Germany the research institute KIT won a sustainability price for their work in methane pyrolysis. In the Netherlands, TNO’s own won the Enlightenmentz 2019 prize for the solid carbon/molten metal separation technique.
Methane pyrolysis techniques, like the EMBER technology, do have advantages over conventional methods of hydrogen and carbon production:
- The costs of producing hydrogen are similar to the conventional steam methane reforming processes. Therefore the technology could be interesting for industrial activities that need “cheap” hydrogen;
- The energy value of the methane is used in hydrogen production. Advantages are:
- Producing hydrogen in large quantities. This is a requirement for industrial use, for instance by the ammonia and refinery industry;
- Methane retains its value because it becomes a clean feedstock for industrial production processes which doesn’t emit CO2 anymore.
- Valuable solid carbon is produced;
- No CO2 is released in the EMBER process to produce hydrogen and solid carbon;
- TNO expects that the technology would be commercially available to industry around 2030-35.