Technicians make adjustments to equipment in the hydrogen membrane testing unit at FE's National Energy Technology Laboratory. NETL researchers in the Research Innovation Center are testing different types of materials that might be used to separate hydrogen from other gases. Photo courtesy of NETL.
Hydrogen from coal research supports goals of increasing energy security, reducing environmental impact, promoting economic development, through the conversion of the nation’s abundant coal resources into hydrogen. The use of coal — America’s largest domestic fossil energy resource — offers the potential to economically produce hydrogen and capture carbon dioxide emissions for the generation of low-carbon electricity.
Hydrogen can be produced from coal by gasification (i.e., partial oxidation). Coal gasification works by first reacting coal with oxygen and steam under high pressures and temperatures to form synthesis gas, a mixture consisting primarily of carbon monoxide and hydrogen. The synthesis gas is cleaned of impurities and the carbon monoxide in the gas mixture is reacted with steam via the water-gas shift reaction to produce additional hydrogen and carbon dioxide. Hydrogen is removed by a separation system and the highly concentrated CO2 stream can subsequently be captured and sequestered. The hydrogen can be used in a combustion turbine or solid oxide fuel cell to produce power, or utilized as a fuel or chemical feedstock.
Gasification of coal is a promising technology for the co-production of electric power and hydrogen from integrated gasification combined-cycle (IGCC) technology. However, there currently are no commercial demonstrations of these joint power and hydrogen plants. Conceptual plants have been simulated using computer models to estimate technical and economic performance of co-production facilities.
To reduce costs, novel and advanced technology must be developed throughout the entire system that produces hydrogen from coal. For example, carbon dioxide produced in the hydrogen production process could be sequestered by technologies now being developed in DOE’s Carbon Sequestration Program and eventually demonstrated in other activities by the Office of Clean Coal.
Research and Development (R&D) Needs
Hydrogen from coal R&D activities include advanced water-gas shift technologies focusing on the development of more active and impurity-tolerant shift catalysts and technologies that integrate water-gas shift and hydrogen separation into a single step; advanced hydrogen separations technology for advanced pressure swing adsorption (PSA), membranes, solvents, reverse selective systems, and other technology alternatives; and process intensification for integration of several processes into one step such as synthesis gas clean-up, water-gas shift, and hydrogen separation.
For further information, please see Technologies for Hydrogen Production website.
Benefits of Producing Hydrogen from Coal
A scenario of high cost of natural gas with concurrently low cost of coal will provide impetus for production of hydrogen from coal feedstock with carbon capture and storage. Moreover, hydrogen production technologies are gaining attention because hydrogen is predicted to be the energy carrier of the future, as it is extremely clean when reacted with oxygen (producing water) and has a high energy density by mass. Hydrogen can be used to feed Fuel Cells or combusted in a Hydrogen Turbine to generate clean electricity. Hydrogen could also power fuel cell vehicles. Although there are technical challenges to overcome, a clean coal gasifier to produce hydrogen would be a key component of a hydrogen economy and hydrogen-based power generation as envisioned.