A new method of creating hydrogen from natural gas — one which does not produce carbon dioxide as a byproduct — could open up a range of emission-free alternative energy technologies. The innovation was recently spun out into a company, Aurora Hydrogen, co-founded by U of T Engineering professor Murray Thomson (MIE), University of Alberta professor Erin Bobicki (formerly a ChemE professor), and Andrew Gillis, who joined the team as CEO.
Hydrogen is attractive as a medium for storing energy because it contains no carbon. When burned as a fuel or combusted in a hydrogen fuel cell, the only substance exiting the exhaust pipe is pure water.
The challenge arises in generating the hydrogen in the first place. One method is to split water into hydrogen and oxygen gas using electricity. However, this process is energy inefficient, requiring large amounts of electricity to produce only small amounts of hydrogen.
Another approach is to react natural gas, also known as methane, with water in the form of steam. This process is known as steam methane reforming and is the source of 95% of hydrogen produced today. However, the carbon present in the natural gas leads to byproducts such as carbon dioxide.
Thomson and his collaborators are using a third approach, based on methane pyrolysis, a process that uses heat to break down natural gas into hydrogen gas and solid carbon particles. Read full U of T Engineering News story.