I’ve been leading a new area of research aimed at offsetting natural gas consumption with hydrogen produced from biomass-derived sugars or waste glycerol from biodiesel production. The process utilizes waste heat in the exhaust from internal-combustion-engine power plants to drive chemical reactions that produce hydrogen. The hydrogen can then be blended with the primary natural gas fuel in order to enhance combustion. Hydrogen-enriched combustion can increase efficiency by up to 20% and reduce emissions of NOx by more than 95%.
The current project is focused on understanding the use of catalysts in aqueous phase reformation (APR) processes to speed up chemical reactions so that medium-temperature waste heat can be used to reform a wide range of plant based feedstocks.
Mark Severy recently graduated with a M.S. in Environmental Resources Engineering from HSU. His thesis modeled the waste heat resources available from large internal-combustion-engine power plants like the one at the Humboldt Bay Generating Station. His work demonstrates that, depending on engine type and operating conditions, there is sufficient waste heat to replace a significant portion of the natural gas with hydrogen produced from waste glycerol left over from biodiesel production. His work also shows that water vaporization in APR can consume a significant portion of the recovered waste heat. By raising the APR pressure, this water vaporization could be reduced. We are currently applying for grants to experimentally investigate high-pressure APR.