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BIOgas membrane reformer for deceNtralIzed hydrogen produCtiOn

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - BIONICO (BIOgas membrane reformer for deceNtralIzed hydrogen produCtiOn)

Reporting period: 2019-03-01 to 2019-12-31

The BIONICO project aimed at developing, building and demonstrating at a real biogas plant (TRL6) the use of a novel catalytic membrane reactor (CMR) for producing high purity hydrogen from Biogas in a single step.
The BIONICO project achieved the targets set in terms of component development (membrane & catalyst), energy-economic-environmental performance, laboratory experiments and reactor construction. Unfortunately, the demonstration of the reactor failed because of a severe failure of auxiliary components that ultimately damaged the reactor stopping the activity.
More in details, these are the technical, environmental and socio-economic goals achieved within the BIONICO project:
Technical objectives:
• A novel CMR for H2 production was designed and constructed with 125 membranes and catalyst
• the process modelling determined a biogas-to-hydrogen conversion up to 72%, more than 10% higher than commercially available technology
• the process modelling demonstrated the system flexibility to produce pure H2 from biogas of different compositions (Landfill or Anaerobic digestion)
Economic Objectives:
• the techno-economic assessment demonstrated a potential levelized cost of hydrogen reduction of the novel CMR of 5-7% with respect to commercial technologies.
• the market potential for the project exploitable results was identified together with the identification of the pathways for the exploitation of the newly system for producing hydrogen from biogas
Environmental and safety Objectives:
• Assessment of the environmental performance of the BIONICO technology for H2 production from biogas, comparison with existing conventional alternatives and demonstration of its potentially lower environmental impact
• Guide the design and development of the novel CMR technology towards more environmentally-friend way under different scenarios
Social Objectives:
• The project increased the awareness and involvement within the whole social chain (users, students, professionals, authorities, organizations) through several dissemination activities carried out along the project (participation to conferences, workshop organization, paper preparation).
A brief description of the main achievements of the project is here reported:
• A novel reforming catalyst was developed for the biogas composition identified in the project. Activities focused on finding a fluidizable alumina support and catalyst formulations (both platinum group metal and promoters).
• The catalytic material for the prototype reactor was identified, noticing minimal deactivation and attrition. The delivery of 35 kg of catalyst for the pilot plant was completed; JM manufactured the leading catalyst in sufficient quantities to be tested for fluidization.
• A new finger-like asymmetric porous alumina tube (14/7 mm o.d./i.d. and 100 nm pore size outer layer) has been successfully prepared by Rauschert, so that one of the sealing connections could be avoided together with the potential leakage through it.
• A new type of membranes, thin Pd-Ag membranes (>40 cm long) have been successfully prepared onto finger-like asymmetric alumina 14/7 mm o.d./i.d. supports and using Swagelok-based sealing. Fluidized bed membrane reactor tests have been performed at lab-scale at TUE with 5 (and 7) finger-like supported thin Pd-based membranes showing a H2 recovery up to 55.6% and a H2 purity of 99.65 % for autothermal reforming of biogas.
• 125 ceramic supported Pd-based membranes (+4 spare) have been prepared for the prototype and delivered to ICI for their integration in the membrane reactor prototype. The membranes have a good quality (ideal H2/N2 perm-selectivity>10,000) showing a N2 leakage below < 1 x 10-10 mol m-2 s-1 Pa-1
• The lab experiments demonstrated the stability of both catalyst and membrane in fluidized bed conditions. The performance of Pd-Ag-Au membranes were measured in the presence of H2S, showing improved performance for the one with higher Au content.
• The BIONICO system layout was defined and its performance assessed with ASPEN plus flowsheet models using 2 different biogas compositions and 2 different permeate side conditions. Simulated efficiencies above 72 % were reached for several operating conditions.
• A reactor with 125 membranes was designed and constructed by ICI with the support of POLIMI and TUE. The P&ID was elaborated, and the sizing and design of the main equipment was done and finally the control logic was implemented
• The reactor was tested for 115 hours, showing the capability to produce high purity hydrogen. A severe accident did not allow to further test the system.
• A detailed environmental life cycle assessment was carried to identify the most critical aspects of CMR technology and to guide CMR design under different scenarios. The CMR design is also compared with 2 baseline technologies, steam and autothermal reforming reactors.
• A safety assessment was performed by ICI during the elaboration of the construction design of the reactor based on various safety standards and directives. Following the safety analysis, Inconel was chosen as construction material for reactors.
• Different channels have been used to target different audiences. A dedicated website ( was created and 2 press releases were made to maximize the number of citizens reached by the dissemination activity. One leaflet describing the project and gadgets were made and distributed at conferences/workshops.
• A further mean of dissemination is the LinkedIn Group on Membrane Reactors, with more than 240 members and in which BIONICO is represented. Among the group administrators is the BIONICO dissemination manager. On the Group is periodically updated material related to the project. In addition, a BIONICO project page with newsletter and publications for the scientific community was added to Researchgate.
• The 1st dissemination BIONICO workshop, together with other projects, was held on 9-10/03/2017 in Verona (Italy). During the project 2 dissemination videos were published, together with a time-lapse vide of the reactor assembly, 9 peer-reviewed papers were published and the project results were presented with 16 oral talks and 8 posters at international conferences.
• On 23/07/2019, the BIONICO consortium organized a visit to the BIONICO pilot system at ICI for a group of Italian stakeholders from biogas and hydrogen industries.
BIONICO has built the largest CMR for direct biogas-to-hydrogen conversion in the world, implementing 125 membranes and designed to produce 100 kg/day of H2. The direct conversion and purification of hydrogen in one single reactor increases the efficiency of production significantly. Even at small scale, efficiency of 72 % can be achieved thanks to membrane integration in the reactor. The direct conversion of biogas in a membrane reactor allows a reduction of the cost of hydrogen of 5-7% since the reforming temperature is much lower (550 ºC vs 800 ºC in conventional system) and the downstream WGS and separation steps are not required. The performance of the pilot scale system has not been verified due to a severe failure that ultimately damaged the reactor stopping the tests. The testing was performed for 115 hours: within this limited timeframe good syngas conversion and nearly pure hydrogen production were measured confirming the potentialities of the technology together with the improvements of catalyst and membranes.
Bionico membranes
Bionico reactor
Bionico System
Bionico conceptual schematic
Bundle of membranes inside the BIONICO reactor