Novel Hydrogen Fuel Purification Membrane Paves the Way for Greener Future

Researchers develop a novel membrane that efficiently purifies hydrogen fuel from a mixture of gases

Hydrogen is a clean source of fuel, but its purification has been challenging until now. Now, a group of scientists from Japan and France has found a solution — by characterizing a hybrid separation membrane for purifying hydrogen from other gases. In light of the current global warming crisis, the scientists are optimistic that their novel membrane will make the use of hydrogen fuel efficient and cost-effective.

Selective hydrogen gas permeation
A cross-sectional image of selective hydrogen gas permeation in a super hydrophobic membrane formed on a porous tubular support

Hydrogen has been hailed as the ‘fuel of the future’ owing to several reasons. First, compared to the conventionally used hydrocarbons, hydrogen exhibits higher energy yield. Second, the commercial use of hydrogen fuel, which yields only water as a byproduct product, would help mitigate the imminent global warming crisis by reducing the use of exhaustible and polluting fossil fuels. Thus, ongoing research has been focusing on efficient and environment-friendly ways to produce of hydrogen fuel.

Solar hydrogen production through photoelectrochemical (PEC) water-splitting reaction is an attractive “green” method of hydrogen fuel production, owing to its potential for high conversion efficiency, low operating temperatures, and cost-effectiveness. However, efficient separation of hydrogen gas from a mixture of gases (called “syngas”) under different environmental conditions, has proven to be a challenge. A recent paper published in the journal Separation and Purification Technology seeks to address this challenge. In this study, a group of researchers from Nagoya Institute of Technology, Japan, led by Professor Yuji Iwamoto, in collaboration with researchers in France, successfully characterized a novel membrane that allows highly selective separation of hydrogen gas generated from the PEC reaction. Prof. Iwamoto says, “Membrane separation is attractive as a low-cost hydrogen gas purification technology. However, current techniques face several challenges, for example, water-induced swelling with polymer membranes and lower hydrogen permeance with metal, polymer, and supported liquid membranes.”

The researchers first developed an organic-inorganic hybrid polymeric membrane, primarily consisting of a polymer called “polycarbosilane” (PCS) formed on an aluminium oxide (Al2O3)-based porous support. Prof. Iwamoto further explains, “By using high-molecular-weight PCSs with a melting point above 200°C, we showed that a superhydrophobic PCS membrane could be deposited on a mesoporousγ-Al2O3-modified macroporousα-Al2O3 tubular support.”

After successfully developing the PCS membrane, the researchers tested it under PEC reaction conditions. As hypothesized, the PCS membrane showed high hydrophobicity. Moreover, under the flow of a simulated highly humid gas mixture at 50°C, the PCS membrane exhibited excellent hydrogen selectivity. Further analysis revealed that the preferential hydrogen permeation through the PCS membrane was governed by the “solid state diffusion” mechanism. Overall, irrespective of the ambient environmental conditions provided, the PCS membrane exhibited efficient hydrogen gas separation.

With the development and characterization of this new PCS membrane, it is inevitable that its commercial adoption will not just facilitate the use of hydrogen fuel for energy needs but also curb the use of non-renewable fossil fuels. Prof. Iwamoto concludes, “With this technological development, we expect great progress in environmental-friendly and sustainable hydrogen production.”

Let’s hope that the use of PCS membrane is a step towards a hydrogen-based society!

※This study was made available online in November 2020 ahead of final publication in issue on March 1, 2021

Reference

Title of original paper: Superhydrophobic polycarbosilane membranes for purification of solar hydrogen

Journal: Separation and Purification Technology

DOI: 10.1016/j.seppur.2020.117998

About Nagoya Institute of Technology, Japan

Nagoya Institute of Technology (NITech) is a respected engineering institute located in Nagoya, Japan. Established in 1949, the university aims to create a better society by providing global education and conducting cutting-edge research in various fields of science and technology. To this end, NITech provides a nurturing environment for students, teachers, and academicians to help them convert scientific skills into practical applications. Having recently established new departments and the “Creative Engineering Program,” a 6-year integrated undergraduate and graduate course, NITech strives to continually grow as a university. With a mission to “conduct education and research with pride and sincerity, in order to contribute to society,” NITech actively undertakes a wide range of research from basic to applied science.

Website: https://www.nitech.ac.jp/eng/index.html

About Professor Yuji Iwamoto from Nagoya Institute of Technology, Japan

Dr. Yuji Iwamoto is a Professor at Department of Life Science and Applied Chemistry, Nagoya Institute of Technology, Japan. Prof. Iwamoto’s expertise lies in the field of inorganic material and their physical properties. He was the recipient of the prestigious Richard M. Fulrath Award in 2006. Some of his ongoing research projects are in gas separation membranes and functional ceramics. His academic affiliations include the Ceramic Society of Japan and Materials Research Society. He has published over 200 articles in reputed journals.

Funding information

This study was funded by “Research Project for Future Development: Artificial Photosynthetic Chemical Process (ARPChem)” (METI/NEDO, Japan: 2012–2022) and French National Centre for Scientific Research, through the International Research Project (IRP) titled “Ceramics materials for societal challenges.”

Media Contact

Professor Yuji Iwamoto
Email: iwamoto.yuji@nitech.ac.jp

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Nagoya Institute of Technology (NITech)
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Nagoya Institute of Technology actively undertakes a wide range of research from basic to applied science. Website: https://www.nitech.ac.jp/eng/index.html