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Using solar energy for cleaner fuel

European scientists developed a technology that uses solar energy to convert methane gas into energy, while at the same time avoiding carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.
Using solar energy for cleaner fuel
Methane reforming is an energy-requiring reaction between methane, steam and CO2, generating hydrogen and CO. The potential of this application in the field of clean renewable energy is well documented. Depending on the feed source for the reforming process, CO2 emissions can be reduced significantly because the needed process heat for this highly endothermic reaction is provided by concentrated solar energy. Additionally, the calorific value of the fuel is enhanced by 20–30 %.

With that in mind, the EU ‘Solar steam reforming of methane rich gas for synthesis gas production’ (Solref) project aimed to develop an innovative 400 kW solar reformer for several applications such as hydrogen production or electricity generation.

Using various experimental analysis methods, project partners developed an appropriate catalyst and an advanced 400 kW solar reformer. To test the transient behaviour of the solar reforming plant, a dynamic model was developed that allowed optimisation of start-up and shut-down routines. Except for biogas, landfill gas and methane with CO2 could be processed using the Solref technology, resulting in reduction of CO2 emissions.

The consortium also analysed and designed prototype plants which underwent cost-benefit analysis prior to choosing the integrated reformer solution. Finally, the environmental, socioeconomic and financial impacts were assessed. The Solref technology exhibited efficiency benefits as it allowed hydrogen production and storage of the produced CO2 in the same location using only solar energy.

Overall, the major innovation of the Solref project was a new catalytic system for solar reforming using higher operating temperatures and different feed compositions. Introduction of the technology to the market is expected to gain application in the pollution-free, renewable fuel market.

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