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Environment

Flash volatilization yields H2 and syngas

November 6, 2006 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 84, ISSUE 45

A process for making hydrogen and synthesis gas (a mixture of H2 and CO) from nonvolatile renewable feedstocks has been developed by chemical engineer Lanny D. Schmidt and his coworkers at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis (Science 2006, 314, 801). Schmidt's group has previously used its efficient "reactive flash volatilization" reactor to make H2 from ethanol and olefins from soybean oil. The reactor employs an automotive fuel injector to spray fine droplets of feedstock onto a catalyst. The feedstock vaporizes on contact with the hot surface, mixes with air, and is oxidized in a few milliseconds. The researchers have now modified the process to convert nonvolatile soybean oil or a glucose-water solution to H2 or to syngas. The self-heating reactions maintain the rhodium-cerium catalyst temperature above 800 oC, which prevents catalyst-deactivating carbon buildup that's usually a problem with nonvolatile feedstocks. The researchers envision that the small reactor could be used on board vehicles to provide H2 for fuel cells or be scaled up for industrial production of syngas to make synthetic fuels and chemicals.

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