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What is it?

A hydrocarbon fuel is partially combusted in a reformer in the presence of a limited amount of oxygen. Incomplete combustion occurs, leading to the formation of hydrogen gas and carbon monoxide. Can either be thermal (high temperature) or catalytic (lower temperature).

Why is it important?

Established industrial process with fast start-up time, and yields a syngas ratio ideal for subsequent chemical synthesis.


  • Inputs: Oxygen, heat (only required initially in the case of catalytic system), oil or natural gas
  • By-products: CO2
  • Operating temperature: High for thermal system (however heat comes from combusting hydrocarbon feedstock), initially high temperature required for catalytic system (subsequently self-sustaining temperature during ongoing process)
  • Energy efficiency: 60-75%


  • Less clean-up required than gasification or pyrolysis options
  • Exothermic reaction therefore does not require a heat exchanger and is more compact
  • Rapid start-up time
  • Yields ideal syngas ratio for subsequent chemical synthesis, e.g. methanol production


  • Ideal syngas ration for subsequent chemical synthesis is produced at the expense of lower quantities of hydrogen
  • Soot handling adds process complexity
  • Requires oxygen
  • Requires CCUS to achieve low carbon emissions

RD&D priorities

  • Develop and demonstrate effective means of integrating carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) to achieve zero-to-low carbon emissions
  • Improve appliance and plant design for greater flexibility in ramping up and ramping down
  • Integrate renewable energy sources. For example, concentrated solar power can act as a thermal energy source for the process
  • Establish environmentally suitable treatment of waste by-products
  • Develop cheap and effective hydrogen separation systems to obtain appropriately pure hydrogen for specific applications
  • Improve reactor design to accommodate highly exothermic or endothermic reactions (e.g. staged introduction of reagents, better designed heat transfer surfaces, process intensification, advanced materials, reaction monitoring/control, pre-treatment of waste

Known active organisations

  • The Australian National University
  • The University of Adelaide
  • The University of Newcastle

Other opportunities like this

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