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Revolutionary Ceramic Membrane Makes Hydrogen Fuel Cells Highly Efficient


Hydrogen is known as an energy carrier for fuel cells. It also finds significant application in various industrial processes from food processing to the manufacturing of glass, semiconductors, and ammonia-based fertilizers.

A team of scientists supported and headed by CoorsTek, the world’s leading manufacturer of engineered ceramics, have developed a ceramic membrane that generates compressed hydrogen derived from natural gas and electricity. This conversion is a one-step process and more interestingly, its energy loss is almost nil.

Since it is a highly efficient technology that makes use of cheap and abundant natural gas, the ceramic membrane allows the production of hydrogen that is the cleanest and cheapest alternative for fueling vehicles, compared with electricity and petroleum.

According to Dr. Jose Serra, a co-author of the study, the highly efficient, near zero energy loss, the conversion process of natural gas to hydrogen is attributed to the combination of a heat-absorbing or endothermic chemical reaction and an electrochemical reaction. The latter is a reaction that requires electricity and electrolyte for the reaction to proceed.

The ceramic membrane that is made up of barium oxide, zirconium oxide, and yttrium oxide, acts as a solid electrolyte, transporting hydrogen ions at elevated temperatures within the range of 400 to 900 degrees Celsius. Subjecting the ceramic cell to electricity, hydrogen is not only separated from other gases but is also electrochemically compressed.

Dr. Serra cites plausible applications of the ceramic membrane technology. “For example, we can use the ceramic membrane technology to produce hydrogen from water. This will require more electric power than reforming of methane, but if electricity is available from renewable sources we can make hydrogen without CO2 emissions. You can also think one step further and design energy systems that are not only low carbon or zero carbon, but even have negative carbon emissions. This will be the case if you use renewable electricity to reform biogas to hydrogen and store the produced carbon from the biogas underground. In this way, hydrogen can one day become a negative emission energy carrier.”

Per Vestre, the Managing Director of CoorsTek Membrane Sciences, explains the advantages of their technology. “Our breakthrough ceramic membrane technology makes it possible for hydrogen-fueled vehicles to have superior energy efficiency with lower greenhouse gas emissions compared to a battery electric vehicle charged with electricity from the grid. The potential for this technology also goes well beyond lowering the cost and environmental impact of fueling motor vehicles.  With high-volume CoorsTek engineered ceramic manufacturing capabilities, we can make ceramic membranes cost-competitive with traditional energy conversion technology for both industrial-scale and smaller-scale hydrogen production.”

More details can be read from their research paper entitled, “Thermo-electrochemical production of compressed hydrogen from methane with near-zero energy loss.”

Infographic | How hydrogen from ceramic membranes can be cleaner and cheaper than electricity for next-gen vehicles (PRNewsfoto/CoorsTek)
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  1. “we can make hydrogen without CO2 emissions”
    Does it mean their process outputs carbon monoxide as a waste product, just not CO2?
    There’s one atom of carbon for every molecule of natural gas (CH4,) they don’t say what becomes of it.

    • I think reading their quote, what they are looking at is the source of the electricity used to produce the H2. What they are discounting is the output, which must involve carbon being emitted in some form, most likely CO2. Take the H out of CH4 and you have C !
      So its misleading to say its without CO2 emissions even if the source is CO2 free.
      I also find their comparisons on efficiency vs battery cars highly dubious, it seems impossible that instead of taking the electricity that would have been used to directly charge a battery you produce H2 with it, compress it and put it in a fuel cell and then turn that back to electricity to power a motor, you get better efficiency than just electricity to battery.
      There must be some double counting or omitted counting going on here.


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