Russian Scientists Discover New Way To Produce Hydrogen Without Carbon Capture

Russian Scientists Discover New Way To Produce Hydrogen Without Carbon Capture - Carbon Herald

A team of Russian scientists from Moscow’s Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology (Skoltech) has unveiled a potentially groundbreaking approach to hydrogen production within gas wells. 

This method eliminates the need for capturing carbon at the surface, potentially bypassing the costly and complex carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology.

Published in the respected journal Fuel, their lab experiment suggests extracting up to 45% of a reservoir’s gas volume as hydrogen, while keeping carbon molecules safely underground. 

The four-stage process utilizes techniques already familiar in oil well management, hydrogen creation, and CCS. The team simulated real-world gas reservoir conditions inside a laboratory reactor for testing.

A Four-Stage Approach to Clean Hydrogen Production

  1. Steam Injection and Catalyst Introduction: The process begins with injecting steam and a special catalyst (details undisclosed) into the well. This catalyst plays a crucial role in separating hydrogen molecules from carbon later on.
  2. Underground Combustion and Temperature Boost: The next step involves injecting air or pure oxygen to ignite the methane within the well. This combustion process raises the reservoir temperature to a scorching 800°C. At this elevated temperature, the pre-injected catalyst facilitates the breakdown of methane into hydrogen, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide.
  3. Alternative Heating Option: If necessary, the researchers propose utilizing electrical or radio frequencies instead of steam to achieve even higher temperatures exceeding 1,000°C.
  4. Surface Extraction via Selective Membrane: The final stage involves pumping the produced hydrogen to the surface through a specialized membrane. This membrane selectively allows hydrogen molecules to pass through, while blocking carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, effectively leaving the carbon underground.

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Labeling the Innovation: Aqua Hydrogen

The Russian scientists proposes naming this novel production method “aqua” hydrogen. While lab tests demonstrate a potential 45% hydrogen extraction rate, the researchers acknowledge that this figure can vary depending on the rock composition. 

Tests with porous alumina, a synthetic material, yielded even higher extraction percentages of 55%.

The concept of burning hydrocarbons underground raises valid safety concerns, which the researchers readily acknowledge. They emphasize the importance of implementing stringent safety protocols and advanced technologies during practical application.

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However, the team highlights that each stage of the process has already been explored in various contexts. Subterranean hydrocarbon combustion is a common technique used in enhanced oil recovery (EOR), while steam methane reformation has been employed for hydrogen production for decades. 

The membrane extraction stage, however, is a concept that has primarily found discussion in CCS research.

Unanswered Questions Remain

The Skoltech method’s impact on methane emissions and its economic viability for hydrogen production are yet to be determined. 

Furthermore, the transportation of hydrogen from remote locations presents its own set of technical and economic challenges.

Despite these uncertainties, Skoltech’s proposed method offers a promising avenue for clean hydrogen production, potentially reducing costs and environmental impact compared to traditional methods. 

With further research and development, this innovation could play a significant role in the future of clean energy.

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