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Bio-Oil Hydrogen Generation Just Needed a More Efficient Process

Aingeru Remiro-Eguskiza, Ph.D. Chemical Engineering
Aingeru Remiro-Eguskiza, Ph.D. Chemical Engineering

We’ve been watching hydrogen fuel for a while now, and the utilization of hydrogen has seen fairly rapid development, as seen in the decreasing size of fuel cell stacks and increasing efficiency. In fact, by 2015, Toyota, BMW, and others are planning on having at least one hydrogen fuel cell model in production.

Of course, all this could be for naught if there is no efficient and reliable hydrogen fuel infrastructure. Hydrogen generation, storage, and delivery has take a number of routes, including electrical, chemical, even solar.

In order to make hydrogen generation viable for transportation needs, though, it needs to be efficient and productive, which most methods are lacking. One method of generating hydrogen involves the heating of bio-oil and then feeding it to a catalyst. The heated hydrocarbon fuel reacts with the catalyst and water vapor to release hydrogen and carbon dioxide.

There are a few problems with bio-oil hydrogen generation, though. First, the release of carbon dioxide is exactly what hydrogen fuel is supposed to eliminate. Secondly, the heating of the bio-oil precipitates pyrolytic lignin, which eventually coats the catalyst, disabling it. Finally, the carbon dioxide itself slows down the reaction, making the process somewhat inefficient.

Aingeru Remiro-Eguskiza, a chemical engineer of the University of the Basque Country, in his Ph.D. thesis, developed a process to counteract both of these problems, generating nearly 100% pure hydrogen. By separating the thermal and reaction chambers, the pyrolytic lignins don’t interact with the catalyst, which helps the catalyst last longer. Then, by extracting the carbon dioxide before reaction, the efficiency of the reaction increases.

“When the CO2 is eliminated from the reaction bed, we are encouraging the displacement of the reaction equilibriums and, as a result, a greater yield and a greater output of hydrogen are obtained,”

Remiro explained.

Image©University of the Basque Country

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