PITTSBURGH -- Taking a step closer toward its vision of ultraclean, highly efficient power generation, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) will collaborate with a Colorado firm on a $15 million advanced research project to further develop coal-to-hydrogen production technology supporting DOE's zero-emissions FutureGen plant of tomorrow.
Eltron Research Inc., of Boulder Colo., will conduct scale-up and advanced research on metal, alloy, or ceramic-metal membranes to separate hydrogen from carbon dioxide in a stream of synthetic gas produced in coal gasification. Based in part on materials patented by Eltron, the membrane technology is significant to FutureGen because hydrogen derived from the process can be used to increase the efficiency of fuel cells and to fuel future hydrogen turbines, while, at the same time, separating carbon dioxide--a greenhouse gas--from the plant's gas stream. DOE's cost share of the project is just over $12 million. The project will be managed for DOE by the National Energy Technology Laboratory.
Building on membrane work first funded by DOE in early 2000, Eltron will conduct its research in three phases over 5 years. Initially, Eltron will strengthen its membrane to improve hydrogen flux and carbon dioxide sequestration potential. In phase 2, Eltron will scale up its membrane and impurity management system. In phase 3, the company will use a prototype system to separate an estimated 200 pounds of hydrogen per day, not unlike a commercial-size separation unit. All phases are expected to lead toward the design of a pre-commercial-size unit capable of separating an estimated 4 tons of hydrogen per day.
Eltron will be joined by an industrial partnership that includes Praxair, Tonawanda, N.Y.; CoorsTek, Golden, Colo.; Emery Energy Company, North Salt Lake, Utah; and Noram Engineering & Construct, Vancouver, Canada. Praxair will provide economic analyses and coal gas feed impurity management, CoorsTek will explore the cost-effective commercial-scale fabrication of membrane composites, Emery Energy will host field testing of membrane modules, and Noram will address engineering design and construction issues related to commercialization.
DOE initially expects to build a 275-megawatt prototype plant to serve as a large-scale engineering laboratory where clean power processes, carbon capture, and coal-to-hydrogen technologies can be tested. Advanced membranes, such as those under development by Eltron, are essential to reduce the cost of hydrogen production. As hydrogen becomes more affordable, it will increasingly find its place in the transportation sector, including hydrogen-driven cars; central power stations; and distributed power units.
The ultimate goal would be a decrease in the nation's reliance on imported fuels and an energy-producing infrastructure emitting no greenhouse gases or other pollutants.
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