Metal nanoclusters for use in the catalysis of methanol steam reforming.

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Oxford Chemistry


Hydrogen fuel cells have the potential to be more efficient than lithium ion batteries and combustion engines. Currently this potential is not being reached and one of the reasons for this is because an additional step is usually needed to remove carbon monoxide from the reformed hydrogen fuel feed (to prevent the poisoning of the proton-exchange membrane fuel cell). My research aims to develop a catalyst that has high selectivity for producing hydrogen gas with no carbon monoxide as a side product; therefore, removing the necessity for extra steps and materials needed in the current PEM fuel cell systems. Steam can be used in conjunction with a catalyst to reform methanol; for this to be to be a viable way of powering devices the working temperature of the working catalyst needs to be as low as possible. Previous research in Tsang group prepared copper nanoclusters supported on zinc and gallium spinel oxide that catalysed methanol steam reforming at 150 degrees Celsius with no significant CO production. 150 degrees Celsius is quite a low temperature for the process relative to the rest of the literature; however, at this temperature a lot of excess energy would be needed to heat the reformer above the temperature of an operating PEM fuel cell so this process would not be efficient enough for powering devices. Additional aims of my research are to produce a catalyst that is active enough to operate at a temperature around 100 degrees Celsius and still produce hydrogen gas at a high enough rate to provide roughly 100kW of power, which is needed power to power vehicles. Recently a new aqueous miscible organic solvent method has been discovered to produce layered double hydroxides (LDHs); these LDHs can then be calcined to give a catalyst with a very high copper metal surface area and dispersion. Copper nanoclusters have been proven to be very active for methanol steam reforming; therefore I would like to apply this new method of making LDHs for producing metal nanocluster catalysts. This project could include the synthesis of bimetallic nanoclusters supported on oxides of varying compositions. The novelty of the research would include using a new LDH production method and using various compositions of metal precursors previously unseen in LDH steam reforming catalysts. The change in the oxide or nanocluster compositions will likely have an effect on the activity, selectivity and stability of the catalyst. This project falls within the ESPRC catalysis research area. Collaborators involved: Fuel Cell Systems Ltd.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/R512333/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2021
1949788 Studentship EP/R512333/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2021 William Nigel Vickery
Description Current materials (catalysts) can help make hydrogen gas from alcohol, this process is known as catalysis. Meaning the alcohol, specifically methanol (which could possibly be sourced from waste biomass), can be used as a fuel for hydrogen fuel cells.

This research has found modifications that can be made to these catalysts that can help the catalysis happen at lower temperatures, saving energy, and with less side product production, which can help lengthen the operating lifespan of the hydrogen fuel cell.
Exploitation Route This research could pave way for the development of catalysts that can fully suppress the carbon monoxide production in methanol steam reforming and catalyse the reaction at temperatures closer to the fuel cell's operating temperature. This, coupled with research into the production of methanol via a bio-refinery, could lead to the use of methanol as a sustainable, carbon-neutral energy carrier that uses current car re-fueling infrastructure.
Sectors Energy,Environment,Transport

Description Catalyst Support Collaboration 
Organisation University of Edinburgh
Department School of Engineering
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We have provided ideas for catalytic materials that can be supported on their high surface area supports; for use in methanol steam reforming.
Collaborator Contribution They have provided high surface area catalyst supports and they will test the resultant catalytic materials for activity in specially designed reactors.
Impact There has been no outcomes to date. No catalytic testing has taken place.
Start Year 2018