Unmixed Steam Reforming of Liquid Fuels From Biomass and Waste for Hydrogen Production

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: Energy Resources Research Unit


Unmixed steam reforming is a promising alternative process of hydrogen production. It relies on the cyclic oxidation of a bed of nickel-based material and on the simultaneous regeneration of a CO2-sorbent under airflow to provide the heat necessary for the steam reforming reaction. The latter occurs subsequently under a fuel/steam flow while the airflow is interrupted. The effluent gas of the fuel/steam step is much higher in hydrogen than the single reactor equivalent conventional process, and the oxidised catalyst is regenerated by reduction from exposure to the fuel. Because the carbon produced during the steam reforming step is subsequently burned under the airflow, the process is not sensitive to the gradual loss of conversion efficiency exhibited by the conventional process. Furthermore, in the unmixed steam reforming process, sulphur in the fuel is claimed to also undergo oxidation under the airflow rather than irreversibly poisoning the reforming catalyst. This process most importantly claimed to be economical at small scale, unlike the conventional process, and could thus be used in distributed power generation. These advantages open up opportunities for this novel process to apply to a whole range of fuels with coking tendencies and/or sulphur content, such as the combustible liquid mixtures derived from biomass or specific industrial / transportation waste. When using a suitable CO2-sorbent in the reformer, the dry hydrogen content in the reformate gas reaches above 80% (90+% when using on methane fuel). In this case, most of the produced CO2 and the N2 from the airflow effluent leave the reactor separately to the H2-rich reformate gas, and can potentially be easily filtered and stored. In the now completed GR/R50677/01 project, we showed the sequence via which the various reactions involved in the cycle proceeded, and we found clear evidence of the insensitivity of the process to coking. We concluded that certain developments would improve on the original process. These are listed in the objectives.


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Description in this project we investigated whether, firstly, the process of catalytic steam reforming could successfully be applied to liquid feedstocks derived from agricultural and industrial wastes in order to produce hydrogen gas sustainably, and, secondly, whether the process could be intensified using the two novel approaches of chemical looping and in situ CO2 capture to generate high purity hydrogen from a single reactor. We demonstrated via experiments that both the conventional and the intensified processes were feasible using a number of feedstocks with varied characteristics, although deactivation of the catalysts occurred in the one case of feedstock with high sulphur content (pyrolysis oil from waste tyres). Hydrogen with high yield and high purity was obtained with sorption enhanced chemical looping steam reforming of biomass pyrolysis oils.
Exploitation Route positive outcome of this feasibility project warrants further work on process design, which will require modelling inputs obtained from further targeted experiments, as well as model build up and optimisation, so that a pilot plant may be designed as a first stage to future take up of the technology in the world.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Chemicals,Energy,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology

Description Johnson Matthey Plc 
Organisation Johnson Matthey
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
Start Year 2007
Description Tyrolysis Co Ltd 
Organisation Tyrolysis Co Ltd
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
Start Year 2007