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Materials and components for Hydrogen production by sulphur based thermochemical cycles

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One step closer to the hydrogen economy

European scientists developed novel materials to improve the production of hydrogen gas (H2) from sulphuric acid. Prototype reactors validated the efficiency and cost effectiveness of H2 as an alternative to fossil fuels.


Fossil fuels in the form of coal, oil and natural gas have powered the world since the Industrial Revolution. However, demands for electricity are increasing rapidly due to population growth and industrialisation. With ever-decreasing reserves, the electricity we depend on for so many things is becoming a hot commodity, subject to steep fluctuations in price and availability. Combine this lack of a reliable supply with the pollution produced by power generation from fossil fuels and it is clear that we are in need of alternatives. Hydrogen is among the most promising of these. It is abundant in nature and not restricted to specific regions. The only by-product produced by its burning is water. However, H2, the form of hydrogen used as a fuel, does not occur in nature. It must be ‘extracted’ from other compounds via chemical reactions. It can be extracted from fossil fuels, by their nature abundant in hydrogen, but that defeats the purpose. H2 can also be produced from sulphur-based thermochemical cycles that exploit the decomposition of sulphuric acid (H2SO4), the most energy-intensive step in the cycles. However, this step presents serious materials and process challenges. In order to improve such cycles for solar or nuclear H2 generation, the EU-funded 'Materials and components for hydrogen production by sulphur based thermochemical cycles' (Hycycles) project focused on enhancement of the materials used in them. Scientists focused on ceramics of the silicon carbide (SiC) family as substrates on which catalytic sulphuric acid decomposition could occur. Catalysts speed reactions and are thus an important component in increasing efficiency. One of the largest SiC heat exchangers ever made was realised as a result of Hycycles advances. The solar-powered reactor prototype was demonstrated to be scalable with minor modifications. In addition, Hycycles evaluated plant and H2 production costs to complement technical studies and provide a complete picture of potential scale-up scenarios. Hycycles technology should bring the world one step closer to the hydrogen-based economy that promises freedom from dependence on fossil fuels and a healthier planet.

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