A new method to produce fuel-cell grade hydrogen (H2) from methanol (CH3OH)
at temperatures of less than 100 degrees Celsius and with only ambient pressure has been developed at the Leibniz Institute for Catalysis (LIKAT) in Rostock. The development will significantly lower the cost of H2 storage by improving upon a process known as Metha-Cycle.
The Metha-Cycle project set out to decouple wind power from electricity demand. Energy from wind turbines is used to produce hydrogen via electrolysis, which then converted into methanol using CO2 to be stored. In this liquid form, H2 can be easily handled and transported and then converted back into a gas to generate electricity in a fuel cell reactor.
The scientists made the breakthrough while carrying out "mechanistic investigations" into using a ruthenium catalyst in the CH3OH solution (to produce H2 and CO2), which they did in three cascade-like steps. In the first step, H2 is produced along with formaldehyde, in the second, formic acid is produced (plus H2); and in the third and final step, the formic acid is turned into H2. The third step proved initially to be too slow (the gas was not being generated quickly enough to continuously fire a fuel cell), however, when a second catalyst was applied, it was found to enable a higher yield than the sum of both catalysts when operated independently.
The investigations were carried out at LIKAT’s test plant at the Friedrich-Alexander University (FAU). The H2 produced was immediately converted into electricity via a connected fuel cell. The Metha-Cycle process is particularly suited to green electricity generation in rural areas and offers local authorities and businesses the potential to become energy self-sufficient.
In autumn 2016, the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy took over the funding of Metha-Cycle with a total volume of EUR 1.8 million.