Chemical and Environmental Engineering Group

Hydrogen production

Current global energy system must face two main challenges for the next years: replacement of the fossil fuels (carbon, oil and natural gas) and reduction of CO2 and other greenhouse effect gases. In view of this outlook, hydrogen stands as an energy vector with high potential for the future, since its utilization to generate energy is a clean process where only water is formed as by-product. The energy stored within hydrogen can be directly used or transformed into electric power through fuel cells or high efficiency combustion engines. However, hydrogen is not a primary energy source, so that it must be produced from a feedstock, such as natural gas, light hydrocarbons or water. Among the processes for hydrogen production, the research lines developed by the Chemical and Environmental Engineering Group are as follows:

Photocatalytic water splitting
By means of semiconductor materials absorbing light energy, called photocatalysts, the water molecule is split into H2 and O2. Consequently, this process is free of CO2 emissions. The Chemical and Environmental Engineering Group is working in the development of photocatalytic materials, mainly titanium dioxide, showing high efficiency as well as activity within the visible spectra. In addition, the Group is working in the study of the effect that the main operation variables exert on the process yield, such as the use of additives or sacrificial agents.

Water splitting through thermochemical cycles
Thermochemical cycles are based on the water molecule breaking by means of redox reactions over metallic oxides, so that the hydrogen and oxygen molecules are liberated in different stages. The main drawback of this process is the high temperature required. Accordingly, the Chemical and Environmental Engineering Group has focused its research in the design of redox systems operating efficiently at moderate temperatures.

Thermocatalytic decomposition of methane and other light hydrocarbons
The decomposition or decarbonisation of light hydrocarbons, such as methane, allows high purity hydrogen to be obtained without CO2 emissions, since just solid carbon is the co-product of the reaction. The use of catalysts reduces drastically the high temperatures necessary when the decarbonisation takes place thermally. Concerning this research field, the Chemical and Environmental Engineering Group is working on the application of carbonaceous catalysts for the light hydrocarbons decomposition as an alternative to metallic catalysts, which suffer rapid deactivation due to coke deposition.

Steam reforming of biomass-based oxygenated compounds
Biomass-based oxygenated compounds can be used to yield hydrogen by means of catalytic steam reforming and achieving an improved overall CO2 emissions balance. The steam reforming process is highly flexible and hence it can be applied to a number of varied raw materials, such as bio-ethanol, bio-oils coming from biomass pyrolysis as well as other poly-alcohols such as glycerol. On the other hand, the water-gas shift reaction allows reducing the levels of CO generated in the previous process and simultaneously increases the amount of H2 in the stream. Our group focuses the research efforts on the design of catalytic systems with high activity and stability in both processes. Likewise, the use of permeoselective dense membrane reactors which allows the separation of the H2 obtained in the above mentioned reactions with a consequent increasing in the hydrogen yield is also studied.

Current research projects:

Aprovechamiento térmico de la energía solar de manera gestionable, eficiente y modular en sistemas de alta concentración (SOLGEMAC).

Financial Support: Comunidad de Madrid; Programa de actividades de I+D entre grupos de investigación y laboratorios en Tecnologías (Coordinado por la Fundación IMDEA Energía).

  • Start Year: 2010
  • End Year: 2013

Producción de combustibles limpios para transporte a partir de residuos agroforestales y oleaginosos (RESTOENE).

Financial Support: Comunidad de Madrid; Programa de Investigación entre Grupos

  • Start Year: 2010
  • End Year: 2013

Desarrollo de catalizadores y membranas para la obtención de hidrógeno a partir de bioalcoholes.

Financial Support: Ministerio de Educación y Ciencia

  • Start Year: 2011
  • End Year: 2013

Producción de hidrógeno y combustibles líquidos mediante procesos termoquímicos a partir de microalgas

Financial Support: Ministerio de Economía y Competitividad

  • Start Year: 2014
  • End Year: 2016