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Catalyst-based hydrogen production may be a game-changer
Posted: May 23, 2012 3:30 p.m.
Ataullah Khan is one of the lead researchers in the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science catalyst research group. Photo: U of R Photography
For Saskatchewan, at least for now, fossil fuel-generated power is the only viable option, which means that carbon capture is an essential technology for this province. As a result, researchers at the University of Regina and the International Test Centre for CO2 Capture (ITC) are focused on making carbon capture work.
But, that’s not their only focus. In fact, these researchers are taking a uniquely long view to the problem of clean energy and greenhouse gas emissions reduction. In addition to their comprehensive post-combustion capture program, they also have R&D programs in biofuels and other alternative energy options.
Of particular note is the work of professors Raphael Idem and Hussameldin Ibrahim and senior researcher Ataullah Khan on catalyst-based hydrogen. This team has designed an extremely promising novel catalyst that allows hydrogen production to be both feed flexible and process flexible. In other words, a single catalyst can be used to switch between feedstocks without disrupting plant operations. Even better, the catalyst can convert even unprocessed feedstocks, like raw ethanol and low-grade natural gas, into hydrogen. This means that many waste products, such as glycerol, fusel oils, and biogas, can become value-added fuel feedstocks. The process also incorporates capture, recycling, and storage of CO2, making it CO2 neutral when used with fossil fuels and a CO2 sink when used with biofuels.
In an interesting twist, the researchers’ most recent catalyst research suggests that they might just have found the magic bullet to make post-combustion capture not just economically viable, but perhaps even value added.
The group has very recently developed an entirely new catalyst-aided process that dramatically increases the efficiency of the post-combustion capture process. The new catalyst enables the capture process to operate using hot water instead of steam, which virtually eliminates the energy penalty associated with post-combustion capture.
“With this technology,” explains Idem, “we can make a business case for carbon capture based on added value rather than regulatory requirements.” In other words, carbon capture plants can be operated without substantially affecting the efficiency of the original process, and the captured CO2 can be sold for use in enhanced oil recovery (EOR) operations, making this an ideal means of obtaining CO2 for EOR.
This technology has been described by many in the CCS industry as a game-changing breakthrough, and it represents the most recent innovation in CCS to come out of Saskatchewan, which has been a long-established pioneer in CCS development.