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Research into decarbonising the UK’s transport and heating sector

09 September 2020 @TeessideUni


Teesside University researchers are developing a new pathway for cheap and clean hydrogen to power the UK’s freight and domestic heating sectors of the future.

Researchers are aiming to find a decarbonisation solution through the use of bio-hydrogen.

More than half of the UK’s CO2 emissions come from transport and domestic heating, which rely heavily on fossil fuels.

Dr Venkatesan Venkata Krishnan, from the University’s School of Computing, Engineering & Digital Technologies, said: 'We are very conscious of the government mandate to reduce CO2 emissions. Hydrogen offers an alternative pathway to the use of oil and gas.

'Unlike fossil fuels, burning hydrogen produces no carbon dioxide with water being the main combustion product. Being eco-friendly, it can power our future needs and help to reverse climate change. Unfortunately, hydrogen is not available in nature, and must be manufactured from fossil fuels, biomass or water, using energy intensive processes.

'This hydrogen currently caters industrial needs to produce fertilizers, oil refinery processes, and hydrogenation of vegetable oils. Although it is the cheapest industrial way of producing hydrogen, it releases significant quantities of CO2 in the atmosphere.'

The project team at Teesside University is now developing an innovative hydrogen manufacture process called CMR-SMR (Catalytic Membrane Reactor Steam Methane Reformation), under its ERDF funded study - Tees Valley Hydrogen Innovation Project (TVHIP).

The process uses a highly specialised membrane-based reactor that produces highly pure hydrogen from natural gas at relatively low temperature and low pressure, thereby consuming about 30 percent less energy than current industrial systems.

Hydrogen offers an alternative pathway to the use of oil and gas.

Dr Venkatesan Venkata Krishnan

One key aspect of the CMR-SMR process is that it is flexible enough to operate on low quality feed stocks like biomass, via an intermediate biogas or producer gas. Potential biomass feed stocks, such as bio-processing wastes or crop residues, can therefore be converted to bio-hydrogen.

Dr Humbul Suleman, a researcher on CO2 capture and storage (CCS) at Teesside University, added: 'The product is carbon-neutral, since the CO2 released during the manufacture process will be naturally recycled by the next generation of growing plants, using the earth’s carbon cycle to its advantage.'

He added: 'Using biomass for hydrogen production is a win-win situation for our environment. Firstly, it will help to reduce bio-wastes emanating from plants/trees-based industries such as paper, sugar and food processing.

'Secondly, when burned directly, these bio-wastes produce a little energy and lots of environmental pollution due to improper burning. However, if converted to bio-hydrogen, they will pack more energy and cause no environmental pollution.'

The University’s researchers believe that the bio-hydrogen from CMR-SMR process can be directly blended with - and later replace - the natural gas used for domestic heating and cooking.

A significant emerging market is in transportation, wherein hydrogen can power all sorts of vehicles using hybrid fuel cell-electric technology, eliminating CO2 emissions from the transport sector in UK.

The team believe that CMR-SMR technology is merely the start for the growth of the hydrogen economy.

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