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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/T00150X/1
Title: Decarbonisation of oil: Microwave-catalytic production of clean hydrogen from fossil fuels
Principal Investigator: Slocombe, Dr DR
Other Investigators:
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Department: Sch of Engineering
Organisation: Cardiff University
Scheme: New Investigator Award
Starts: 01 April 2020 Ends: 31 March 2022 Value (£): 238,589
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Catalysis & Applied Catalysis Reactor Engineering
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
No relevance to Underpinning Sectors
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
11 Sep 2019 EPSRC Physical Sciences - September 2019 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
In this project a clean, efficient method will be developed to extract very pure hydrogen from fossil fuels using microwaves. Hydrogen is often called the 'fuel of the future' since it has a high energy density and when used in fuel cells the only product is water. However, it is difficult to store. Microwave assisted heterogeneous catalysis has been shown to release very pure hydrogen from fossil fuels, suppressing all unwanted side products such as carbon dioxide and methane, and leaving only solid carbon. This could solve the hydrogen storage problem and provide a green method of using the vast reserves of oil upon which the entire world relies, thus decarbonising the entire fossil fuel economy.

The discovery of microwave dehydrogenation of fossil fuels is still new, and needs intensive investigation in order to realise the potential impact of the technology upon the decarbonisation of the world. There are major research challenges to be overcome. The key challenges are to drive these microwave reactions efficiently, controllably and repeatably.

The net energy balance of the process is currently poor and not much more chemical energy can be obtained (in the form of H2) than the microwave energy that we put in. This work will advance the scientific understanding of the process, thereby improving efficiency of the new technology.

This project will enable us to (i) precisely control the microwave fields applied to the sample, since these fields directly influence reaction conditions, consequently determining reaction pathways and selectivity and efficiency, (ii) better understand the microwave interaction and catalytic processes involved, and (iii) demonstrate an efficient microwave system for the monitoring and control of the reaction. A suite of new techniques, only made available by recent advances in microwave science, will be used to meet these challenges, such as new magnetic resonance microwave heating cavities, open structures for X-ray analysis during microwave dehydrogenation and advances in solid-state microwave sources.

Hydrogen is difficult to store and transport for use as a fuel. It is widely recognised that a major scientific and technological barrier to the commercialisation and market acceptance of hydrogen based technologies such as fuel cell vehicles is the lack of a cheap, safe and effective hydrogen storage method. This remains a major problem for the scientific community. Current hydrogen storage methods use high pressure or dangerous materials. Despite extensive research globally, over the past few decades covering a vast range of hydrogen storage materials, no single material has met the critical requirements for a viable hydrogen storage material. Any such materials must achieve parity with petrochemicals in terms of cost, safety and energy density. In addition, the national infrastructure required for the storage and transportation of hydrogen as a fuel does not exist, whereas generally, much of our wider national infrastructure is built around the petrochemical storage, transportation and usage network. Extracting hydrogen from fossil fuels in an environmentally friendly process could enable the world to continue using the existing fuel transport infrastructure and petrochemical stores with no impact upon the environment at all.

To attempt to overcome the issues surrounding hydrogen, we have recently demonstrated a method that uses microwaves in combination with electromagnetically designed catalysts in order to rapidly release large amounts of very pure hydrogen from hydrocarbons such as diesel at the point of use. This 24 month project will develop ultra-efficient microwave systems and microwave absorbing catalysts and will in parallel, uncover the fundamental science of the microwave dehydrogenation process, little of which is known.

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Organisation Website: http://www.cf.ac.uk