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23 Nov 2015

ENERGY FROM A FOSSIL FUEL WITHOUT CARBON DIOXIDE

ENERGY FROM A FOSSIL FUEL WITHOUT CARBON DIOXIDE The production of energy from natural gas without generating carbon dioxide emissions could fast become a reality, thanks to a novel technology. Researchers have been researching an innovative technique to extract hydrogen from methane in a clean and efficient way. After two years of intensive experiments the proof-of-principle has now been provided. With the experimental reactor running reliably and continuously, the future potential of this technology has become apparent.

The production of energy from natural gas without generating carbon dioxide emissions could fast become a reality, thanks to a novel technology developed by researchers of the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) in Potsdam and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT). In a joint project initiated by Nobel Laureate and former IASS Scientific Director Professor Carlo Rubbia, the two institutions have been researching an innovative technique to extract hydrogen from methane in a clean and efficient way. After two years of intensive experiments the proof-of-principle has now been provided. With the experimental reactor running reliably and continuously, the future potential of this technology has become apparent.


Instead of burning methane (CH4), its molecular components, hydrogen (H2) and carbon (C), can be separated in a process called 'methane cracking'. This reaction occurs at high temperatures (750°C and above) and does not release any harmful emissions.


While hydrogen is the main output of methane cracking, its by-product, solid black carbon, is also an increasingly important industrial commodity. It is already widely employed in the production of steel, carbon fibres and many carbon-based structural materials. The black carbon derived from the novel cracking process is of high quality and particularly pure powder. Its value as a marketable product therefore enhances the economic viability of methane cracking. Alternatively, black carbon can be stored away, using procedures that are much simpler, safer and cheaper than the storing of carbon dioxide.


Methane cracking itself is not an entirely new idea: in the last two decades, many experiments in different institutions have been carried out that have proven its technical feasibility. But these past attempts were limited by issues such as carbon clogging and low conversion rates.