Hydrogen has gathered support as a viable transition fuel to a carbon neutral economy due to its ability to allow energy release without carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide emissions. Hydrogen could be used in existing infrastructure and power generation with minor modifications, allowing for a quick transition to carbon neutral applications. The initial demand for this hydrogen is targeted at industry in which demand for power or heating gives base load requirements.
Generation of hydrogen on such a large scale is currently achieved via two processes, Steam Methane Reforming (SMR) or Autothermal Reforming (ATR), using natural gas as the feedstock. To decarbonise this ‘blue’ hydrogen, significant infrastructure is required to capture the carbon dioxide from the process, this then needs to be transported and stored in underground reservoirs to lock the emissions from being released into the atmosphere.
This level of infrastructure requires high levels of funding and maintenance, contains significant project risks and requires support from multiple industry bodies and government departments. Centrica Storage is collaborating with the University of Hull to explore the potential build and installation of a methane pyrolysis unit at their Easington gas terminal site. This process converts natural gas in one stage to carbon and carbon dioxide-free hydrogen over a catalytic bed whilst capturing carbon in a solid-state; this reactor is scalable and can operate in a batch or continuous manner.
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The ability to capture the carbon emissions in a solid-state provides a much more cost-effective solution to current hydrogen-generation methods from natural gas, but more importantly could potentially generate alternative revenue. The nanostructured solid-state carbon could be used as the carbon-based sorbent for gas filters due to its structure, with applications in waste water treatments for heavy metals or other filtration systems. In pilot plant testing, carbon nanofiber structures have been manufactured through this technology, offering the potential to open a low-cost opportunity of producing a highly sought-after by-product used in the electronic, medical and military industries.
With hydrogen's critical role in the energy transition, the University of Hull technology could provide not only an industrial-scale decarbonised hydrogen-generation option but a viable production of nanostructured solid-state carbon products, unlocking a wider industry and providing future security for natural gas in the UK and overseas.
Natural gas to H2
Valuable carbon nanofiber by-product
Future UK natural gas security
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