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In the absence of oxygen, methane is decomposed into hydrogen and elemental carbon at high temperatures, usually in the presence of a catalyst.


Technology

What is it?

In the absence of oxygen, methane is decomposed into hydrogen and elemental carbon at high temperatures, usually in the presence of a catalyst.

Why is it important?

Utilises natural gas to produce low-CO2 hydrogen without the need for CCS whilst also producing a marketable by-product, elemental carbon powder.

Characteristics

  • Inputs: Natural gas (methane) and heat
  • By-products: High purity carbon (dependent on catalyst type)
  • Operating temperature: >500°C
  • Energy efficiency: Theoretically achievable value at commercial scale estimated at ~55%
  • The estimated median life cycle emissions of methane pyrolysis are 6.1kg CO2e/kg H2. This is lower than steam methane reforming and coal gasification estimates, but higher than electrolysis and biomass gasification methods

Benefits

  • High purity carbon powder is produced as a by-product - these can include carbon black used in tyres and inks; activated carbon used in water purification and more exotic forms like graphene and nanotubes for use in electronics and composite.
  • Hydrogen gas easily separated from carbon powder
  • Zero-to-low CO2 emissions if making use of heat from renewable or waste sources
  • No water required

Limitations

  • During the extraction, processing and use of natural gas, methane can escape to the atmosphere

RD&D priorities

  • Overcoming carbon deposition leading to clogging of reactor
  • Demonstration at larger scale under industrially relevant reactor conditions
  • Catalyst development
  • Integrate renewable energy sources. For example, concentrated solar power can act as a thermal energy source for the process

Known active organisations

  • CSIRO
  • The Future Fuels Cooperative Research Centre
  • The University of Adelaide
  • The University of Newcastle
  • The University of Queensland
  • The University of Western Australia

Other opportunities like this

  • A chemical loop utilises a recyclable metal with water and hydrocarbon feedstocks to produce hydrogen, water and carbon dioxide. The metal is involved in a repeating cycle of reaction steps

  • Coal is reacted with controlled amounts of oxygen and/or steam at high temperatures to produce syngas (hydrogen and carbon monoxide) which also contains carbon dioxide, methane and water vapour. Gasification involves four stages: drying, pyrolysis, combustion, and gasification reactions.

  • Coal or oil is heated in the absence of oxygen, in order to degrade it into char, pyrolysis oil and syngas.

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