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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