Microreactors change propane into hydrogen

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) have designed very efficient ceramic microreactors for on-site reforming of fuels, such as propane, to produce hydrogen to be used in fuel cells. Does this mean that one day we'll be able to go to a gas station to refill the fuel cells powering our laptops? Read more...

Microreactors have already been used for on-site reforming of fuels, such as methanol or propane, to produce hydrogen to be used in fuel cells. Now, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) have designed very efficient ceramic microreactors to do this task. The scientists say that their microreactors are much better than other fuel reformer systems. They are now trying to reform gasoline and diesel, which are more widely distributed than propane. Does this mean that one day we'll be able to go to a gas station to refill the fuel cells powering our laptops? Probably not before a while, but read more...

Still, the UIUC news release mentions that "applications include power supplies for small appliances and laptop computers, and on-site rechargers for battery packs used by the military."

Prototype of an implantable wireless biosensorThese new ceramic microreactors were designed and built by Paul Kenis, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at UIUC, and his team. On the right you can see Kenis holding a prototype of this ceramic microreactor (Credit: UIUC). Here is a link to a larger version.

Here is a short description of the scientists' latest work.

In their latest work, the researchers incorporated the catalyst structure within a ceramic housing, which enabled the steam reforming of propane at operating temperatures up to 1,000 degrees Celsius. Using the new ceramic housing, the researchers also demonstrated the successful decomposition of ammonia at temperatures up to 1,000 degrees Celsius. High-temperature operation is essential for peak performance in microreactors, said Kenis.

And what will be the use for such microreactors -- if they come to a gas station near where you live? "Applications include power supplies for small appliances and laptop computers, and on-site rechargers for battery packs used by the military."

This research work has recently been published by two scientific journals. If you're interested, you can start with "Ceramic Microreactor for On-Site Hydrogen Production" in the Journal of Catalysis (Volume 241, Issue 2, Pages 235-242, July 25, 2006). Here are two links to the abstract and to the full paper (PDF format, 8 pages). Here is an excerpt from the conclusions of this article.

These integrated ceramic microreactors are promising for the steam reforming of higher hydrocarbons such as propane or butane. The problem of catalyst coking occurring during reforming of higher hydrocarbons below 800 °C can be avoided completely by using high-temperature-compatible microreactors as described herein. This may lead to the development of microscale devices for the reforming of liquid hydrocarbons to produce H2 on-site for use in fuel cells.

You also can check Lab on a Chip which accepted a paper named "Ceramic microreactors for on-site hydrogen production from high temperature steam reforming of propane." Here are two links to the abstract and to the full text.

Sources: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign news release, via EurekAlert!, September 19, 2006; and other websites

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