To develop a CO2 emission-free society, hydrogen should be produced without CO2 emission. Today this is possible via electrolysis with clean electricity sources, for example wind and solar or with CO2 capturing and storage in relation with current hydrocarbon-based processes.
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There is however another possibility to produce hydrogen without CO2 emission. TNO has been working on the EMBER technology which is a methane pyrolysis technology that produces hydrogen without CO2 emission. This technology uses a hydrocarbon feedstock like pipeline gas, fuel gas or associated gas and no carbondioxide storage is needed. The carbon atom will be converted in to a valuable product: solid carbon.
In relation to the program VoltaChem, TNO has drawn up a technology development approach that we are assessing together with international hydrogen and carbon industry stakeholders. To further develop this technology, TNO is inviting partners from the following sectors to participate:
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The standard processes to produce hydrogen are steam methane reforming or partial oxidation processes. These processes, as well as the conventional process to produce solid carbon, release lots of CO2.
With methane pyrolysis processes the problem of CO2 production (which is emitted in atmosphere or captured & stored) can be largely resolved because the C atom from the hydrocarbon is converted into valuable solid carbon. In other words, the two CO2 emitting processes are combined into a process that produces two valuable products where no CO2 is released.
Methane pyrolysis technologies like the EMBER ‘Molten metal methane pyrolysis’ technology have been around for a long time. Companies like Gazprom (Russia) have indicated this type of technologies as one of the promising technologies of the future to process natural gas into hydrogen without CO2 emission.
A number of other initiatives and consortia are working on methane pyrolysis. TNO adds a unique technology (for which a patent has been filed) which can solve one of the main challenges of the molten metal methane pyrolysis technology. It is the effective separation of the carbon from the molten metal using a molten salts concept.
To improve this carbon-molten metal separation process, as well as to deal with other research topics to improve the EMBER technology, additional research is needed. Examples of technology areas that need to be investigated further during the next years would be:
Methane pyrolysis techniques have the attention and traction from of the scientific and industrial world. For instance, in Germany the research institute KIT won a sustainability price for their work in methane pyrolysis. In the Netherlands, TNO’s own won the Enlightenmentz 2019 prize for the solid carbon/molten metal separation technique.
Methane pyrolysis techniques, like the EMBER technology, do have advantages over conventional methods of hydrogen and carbon production: