This micro-scale hydrogen reforming structure achieves the isolation of pure hydrogen gas from mainstream hydrocarbon fuel sources such as gasoline, diesel fuel or JP-8 for use in preexisting fuel cell technology. Fuel reformers are a promising technology in power generation. With lower emissions and comparable efficiency to current internal combustion and turbine based technologies, fuel processors may assist in the fuel cell's emergence into the mass market by side-stepping the infrastructure problems related to the manufacture and delivery of light-weight hydrogen gas.
The benefit of hydrogen reformation technology is not in its capacity to alleviate the pressures of oil dependency or fuel production, rather it provides an alternative method for extraction of the energy stored in such high-density fuels with fewer pollutant byproducts. Combustion of coal or oil-fired power generating stations releases large amounts of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and particulate matter into the atmosphere through a conversion of the hydrocarbons into mechanical energy. Hydrogen reformation takes that same hydrocarbon fuel and converts it into electricity through an electro-chemical fuel cell.
This material is no more than a porous metal - like a stiff sponge - whose chemical properties catalyze the transformation of hydrocarbon fuels into hydrogen gas and CO2 under certain conditions. When the catalytic chemical reaction takes place at high temperatures, the carbon-hydrogen bonds of the fuel are overcome in the reformer.
The carbon ions then combine with the oxygen that has been introduced into the reaction to form a CO2 byproduct while the H2 is sent through the fuel cell to generate electricity. Hydrogen reforming does produce small quantities of CO and particulate matter, but in negligible amounts when compared to internal combustion engines and fire-driven power generators.
Another of the major breakthroughs that hydrogen reformation provides is a solution to the problem of transportation and storage of hydrogen. Because hydrogen is extremely light and highly flammable, storing and transporting useful quantities of the element in its pure form is both impractical and unsafe. Previous attempts to solve this problem, such as cooling hydrogen to its liquid form, have proven impractical as well. Hydrogen offers a solution to this problem by providing on-the-spot production of hydrogen ions for use in fuel cells.
Hydrocarbons provide a naturally occurring delivery system of hydrogen through a preexisting distribution infrastructure of gasoline, diesel and kerosene. When the generation of electricity is required, a fuel reformer can process the hydrocarbons to be sent through the fuel cell, rather than having to burn the polluting hydrocarbon compound in internal combustion engines.
- With no need for bulky fuel compressors, this fuel reformer holds the potential for providing on-demand hydrogen for fuel cells in a reasonably sized package than currently available.
- Portable power packs: This technology can be developed into what can best be described as a super-efficient rechargeable battery. With access to a minimal amount of traditional fuels, a hand-held fuel reformer can provide the elemental hydrogen necessary to maintain a source of electricity in a pocket-sized fuel cell. Fuels cells enjoy a longer life and higher wattage than comparably sized heavy-metal batteries.
- Remote power generation/ Domestic power generation: On a much larger scale, a hydrogen reformer can provide silent, low-emissions, reliable and efficient power generation for government buildings, hospitals, and offices. This same method could also be applied at construction sites or other remote areas, many of which currently rely on diesel generators for on-site electricity. However with fuel reformers and hydrogen fuel cells, there is less pollution and less noise, greater efficiency and longer life.
- For the first time, a single material has been created that fulfills the three key requirements for practical reformation of hydrogen. Previous catalytic supports have offered various combinations of these three characteristics. None have been able to combine all three.
- Acceptable pressure drops per unit length: The symmetrical arrangement of the pores and the macroporous nature of the catalytic material allow for an unrestricted flow of fuel throughout the substance, eliminating the need for external fuel compressors.
- High surface area: The size and uniformity of the pores in this material provide a large catalytic surface upon which the reformation reaction can take place. This allows for an overall reduction in the amount of the material required for practical applications, thereby reducing reactor size.
- Pores do not clog: The macroporous silicon carbide (SiC) and silicon carbonitride (SiCN) structures have exhibited the capacity to remain in tact at temperatures of up to 1200 C, which allows for the catalytic surface to avoid the accumulation of soot (or coking) that coats the catalytic surface during the reaction. Without this key feature, the reaction produces a residue that clogs the pores and eventually renders the material useless.