Making Hydrogen From Ethanol

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by Debra Fiakas CFA

Cars powered by fuel cells or batteries are only as clean as the electricity used to produce the power source.  Proponents of hydrogen fuel cells argue that fuel cells have an edge over batteries, because hydrogen can ultimately be made cleaner with innovations in hydrogen production. 

Steam reforming of natural gas is the most common source of hydrogen and for the most part it is still the most cost-effective process for large-scale production of hydrogen.  Since ethanol is a renewable resource, the steam reforming of ethanol has been proposed by some as a promising alternative to reforming a fossil fuel like natural gas.  Until recently steam reforming ethanol for hydrogen was a topic discussed only in scientific papers.  Most have dismissed this alternative for renewable hydrogen as not commercially viable.

In November 2014, a group of researchers in Singapore at the A*Star Institute of Chemical and Engineering Sciences disclosed an important breakthrough in hydrogen production through steam reforming of ethanol.  They have developed a novel rhodium catalyst that enables hydrogen production with low temperatures and without producing a harmful carbon monoxide by-product.  The rhodium is iron-promoted and the iron oxide converts the carbon monoxide to carbon dioxide and hydrogen. 

A*Star is trying to develop an on-board hydrogen generator to fuel cell electric vehicles or FCEVs.  Engineers there are confident their catalyst innovation is the key to a low-cost, commercially viable device.  The catalyst has prove quite stable in testing and appears to have a long active life.  If these characteristics hold up under further testing, it suggests a very cost effective process with infrequent exchanges or downtime for the onboard device for catalyst regeneration.

There is no investment opportunity as yet in steam reforming of ethanol to produce hydrogen.  However, with wider availability of FCEVs there is bound to be increasing interest in more efficient hydrogen sources for automotive applications.  A*Star seems have made a good start in giving hydrogen a make-over.

Debra Fiakas is the Managing Director of
Crystal Equity Research, an alternative research resource on small capitalization companies in selected industries.

Neither the author of the Small Cap Strategist web log, Crystal Equity Research nor its affiliates have a beneficial interest in the companies mentioned herein.


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