Fuel of the Future

September 18, 2019

by: Edgar Asher

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Technion Professor Gideon Grader

Wednesday, 18 September 2019 | Researchers at the Technion (Israel Institute of Technology) in Haifa have developed an inexpensive, environmentally friendly and safe hydrogen production technology.  Another world-beating development from the ‘start-up nation’.

Technion researchers have developed an innovative, clean, inexpensive, and safe technology for producing hydrogen.  The technology significantly improves the efficiency of hydrogen production, from less than 75% using current methods to an unprecedented 98.7% energy efficiency.

The Technion researchers developed a unique process based on a cyclic process in which the chemical makeup of the anode (the electrode where the oxidation process takes place) changes intermittently. This innovative process, called ‘E-TAC’ water splitting (Electrochemical—Thermally-Activated Chemical water splitting), decouples the hydrogen and oxygen evolution reactions.  Based on this technology, the researchers founded ‘H2Pro’, a startup company working on converting the technology to a commercial application.

The research was conducted by Professor Avner Rothschild of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering and Professor Gideon Grader of the Faculty of Chemical Engineering, together with Dr. Hen Dotan and Avigail Landman, a doctoral student under the joint supervision of Professor Grader and Professor Rothschild.

Enormous amounts of hydrogen are produced annually worldwide. These amounts are expected to triple over the next 20 years.  Just over half of the hydrogen produced today is used to produce ammonia for fertilizers and other substances.  In the future, hydrogen is expected to serve additional applications, some of which are in accelerated stages of development: hydrogen as fuel for fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEV), fuel for storing energy from renewable energy sources for grid balancing and power-to-gas (P2G) applications, industrial and home heating, and more.

Almost all the hydrogen produced today originates in fossil fuels, mainly by extraction from natural gas. This process releases some 10 tons of CO2 for every ton of hydrogen and that is responsible for about 2% of all anthropogenic CO2 emissions into the atmosphere.   The presence of considerable amounts of CO2 in the atmosphere accelerates global warming.  This explains the urgent need for cleaner and more environmentally friendly alternatives for hydrogen production.

Currently, the primary alternative for clean hydrogen production without CO2 emissions is water electrolysis. This process entails placing two electrodes, an anode and a cathode, in alkaline—or acid-enriched water to increase electrical conductivity.  In response to passing an electrical current between the electrodes, the water molecules (H2O) are broken down into their chemical elements, such that hydrogen gas (H2) is produced near the cathode and oxygen (O2) is produced near the anode.  The entire process takes place in a sealed cell divided into two compartments.  Hydrogen is collected in one part and oxygen in the other.

The Technion ‘E-TAC’ technology has several significant advantages over electrolysis: In the new process, oxygen is produced via a spontaneous chemical reaction between the charged anode and the water, without using an electrical current at that point.   This reaction eliminates the need for electricity during oxygen production and increases energetic efficiency from 75% using customary methods to an unprecedented 98.7% efficiency.

The ‘E-TAC’ technology is expected not only to lower operating costs but also equipment costs.  H2Pro estimates that the cost of equipment to produce hydrogen using E-TAC will be about half the cost of equipment used in existing technologies.

Initial assessments indicate that it will be possible to produce hydrogen on an industrial scale at competitive production costs compared to production from natural gas via SMR (small modular reactors) and without emitting CO2 into the atmosphere.

Posted on September 18, 2019

Source: (Excerpt from an article originally published in Ashernet on September 16, 2019. Time related language has been modified to reflect our republication today.)

Photo Credit: Ashernet