Environmentally safer catalyst proves more active in hydrogen production

March 16, 2005

SAN DIEGO -- Ohio State University engineers have developed a chemical catalyst that increases hydrogen production without using a toxic metal common to other catalysts.

Though the new catalyst is still in the early stages of testing, it could represent an important step toward using the nation's coal supply to power alternative fuel vehicles and equipment.

The catalyst uses a combination of iron, aluminum and other metals to harvest hydrogen from carbon monoxide and water, explained Umit Ozkan, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Ohio State. In tests, the catalyst performed up to 25 percent better than a commercially available alternative.

Ozkan described the catalyst Wednesday at the American Chemical Society national meeting in San Diego.

Around the world, researchers are working to develop fuel cells -- devices which would use chemical reactions to produce electricity. Cars are a prime target for this technology, and experts believe that the type of fuel cell that is best suited to cars is one that runs on hydrogen.

"Hydrogen is the ultimate fuel," Ozkan said. "At the same time, we have very large coal reserves. If we could somehow go from coal to hydrogen, we could put those reserves to use in a new way."

"We didn't just want to make a better catalyst, but also understand why it's better, and what we can do to make it work even better," Ozkan said.

That's why the Ohio Coal Development Office and the Ohio Department of Development are funding Ozkan's research.

The first step for making hydrogen from coal is a process called gasification, which converts coal to a carbon monoxide-rich stream. But the next step -- retrieving hydrogen from a reaction between carbon monoxide and water -- only works within a narrow range of low temperatures. New catalysts are needed to boost the reaction, especially for large-scale coal gasification, she said.

Until now, the most popular commercial catalyst has been one made from iron and the toxic metal chromium. During hydrogen production, the catalyst can release chromium as a byproduct. When the catalyst material has passed its useful lifetime, it requires expensive disposal methods.

Because researchers don't fully understand why the iron-chromium catalyst works as well as it does, coming up with a more environmentally friendly alternative hasn't been easy.

"We didn't just want to make a better catalyst, but also understand why it's better, and what we can do to make it work even better," Ozkan said.

She and her team suspected that the chromium helps maintain the pore structure of iron during the reaction, so they looked for a metal with a similar chemical structure. That led them to aluminum, and to other complementary metals that greatly increased hydrogen production.

"What is important is not only which metals are used, but how these metal molecules fit together. We believe the specific way we prepare the catalyst is a key factor in its superior performance," she said. "This performance was maintained when we tested the catalyst using a feed mixture similar to what is produced from coal gasification," she added.

The next thing Ozkan and her colleagues want to do is test whether their catalyst works in the presence of sulfur, since coal from Ohio and much of the American northeast is sulfur-rich.

The coal gasification process typically removes sulfur, she pointed out. "The amount that's left behind -- our catalyst may be able to handle that," she said.
-end-
Contact: Umit Ozkan, (614) 292-2986; Ozkan.1@osu.edu

Written by Pam Frost Gorder, (614) 292-9475; Gorder.1@osu.edu

Ohio State University

Related Hydrogen Articles from Brightsurf:

Solar hydrogen: let's consider the stability of photoelectrodes
As part of an international collaboration, a team at the HZB has examined the corrosion processes of high-quality BiVO4 photoelectrodes using different state-of-the-art characterisation methods.

Hydrogen vehicles might soon become the global norm
Roughly one billion cars and trucks zoom about the world's roadways.

Hydrogen economy with mass production of high-purity hydrogen from ammonia
The Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) has made an announcement about the technology to extract high-purity hydrogen from ammonia and generate electric power in conjunction with a fuel cell developed by a team led by Young Suk Jo and Chang Won Yoon from the Center for Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Research.

Superconductivity: It's hydrogen's fault
Last summer, it was discovered that there are promising superconductors in a special class of materials, the so-called nickelates.

Hydrogen energy at the root of life
A team of international researchers in Germany, France and Japan is making progress on answering the question of the origin of life.

Hydrogen alarm for remote hydrogen leak detection
Tomsk Polytechnic University jointly with the University of Chemistry and Technology of Prague proposed new sensors based on widely available optical fiber to ensure accurate detection of hydrogen molecules in the air.

Preparing for the hydrogen economy
In a world first, University of Sydney researchers have found evidence of how hydrogen causes embrittlement of steels.

Hydrogen boride nanosheets: A promising material for hydrogen carrier
Researchers at Tokyo Institute of Technology, University of Tsukuba, and colleagues in Japan report a promising hydrogen carrier in the form of hydrogen boride nanosheets.

World's fastest hydrogen sensor could pave the way for clean hydrogen energy
Hydrogen is a clean and renewable energy carrier that can power vehicles, with water as the only emission.

Chemical hydrogen storage system
Hydrogen is a highly attractive, but also highly explosive energy carrier, which requires safe, lightweight and cheap storage as well as transportation systems.

Read More: Hydrogen News and Hydrogen Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.