New hydrogen production technology developed at the University of British Columbia (UBC) will be tested in a $7-million project between UBC, the government of Alberta and Alberta utility company ATCO.
The technology developed by the UBC researchers—thermal methane cracking (TMC)—can produce up to 200 kilograms of hydrogen a day using natural gas, without using water, while reducing or eliminating greenhouse gas emissions. The team will test their system at a facility in Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta, run by ATCO, Alberta’s largest natural gas distributor.
Currently, hydrogen can cost up to $15 per kilogram. The project aims to eventually drop this to less than $2 per kilogram—in line with goals set by the US Department of Energy to support hydrogen adoption.
Hydrogen plant schematic. UBC clean hydrogen technology deployed to Alberta in a $7-million collaboration. Image: MéridaLabs
Dr. Omar Herrera, project co-lead and senior program manager at MéridaLabs, notes that most hydrogen is still currently produced using steam methane reforming (SMR).
SMR still emits a significant amount of carbon dioxide and uses large quantities of water and energy. Water electrolysis is another method, but it is costly and can emit even more greenhouse gases than SMR if the electricity used is from non-renewable sources. In contrast, our thermal methane cracking method can produce zero emissions—its only byproduct is carbon black.
The methane cracking process does not produce CO or CO2 as byproducts, thereby eliminating the need for the water gas shift (WGS) reaction or CO2 removal. The process for CH4 decomposition is thus greatly simplified relative to steam reforming. UBC TMC uses liquid metals in a continuous process. Image: MéridaLabs
Dr. Amir Sharafian, prototype development co-lead, says the Alberta project may end up serving new markets for carbon black. Carbon black is valuable for manufacturing tires, battery electrodes, diamonds and other industry processes, he noted; globally this market is projected to reach $23 billion by 2026.