Researchers develop ultra-compact syngas reactor

Monday, 03 June, 2019

Researchers develop ultra-compact syngas reactor

Researchers in Denmark have developed a new and compact approach to producing syngas. The technology from Haldor Topsoe is based on steam methane reforming and could have a significant positive effect on CO2 emissions globally.

Researchers from Haldor Topsoe, the Technical University of Denmark, the Danish Technological Institute and Sintex have been part of the development of a novel syngas reactor that produces synthesis gas for the production of polymers and chemicals in a reactor 100 times smaller than current designs, which currently stand at around 30 m long and the height of a six-storey building.

“Today, approximately 3% of global CO2 emissions stem from the production of syngas — which is comparable to the emissions from all aviation,” said Sebastian Thor Wismann, lead author and PhD student at DTU Physics. “Our research indicates that we can reduce emissions from syngas production by a third, equalling 1% of global CO2 emissions.”

The research team has used computer simulations and lab testing to show that direct electric heating in combination with an innovative thin catalytic coating boosts both energy efficiency and catalytic efficiency. The improved efficiency saves CO2 in itself, but the real gain comes from replacing natural gas with electricity for heating the process to the 900°C necessary. The full potential is achieved when using green electricity from wind turbines or solar panels.

The research has been published in Science magazine in an article titled ‘Electrified methane reforming: A compact approach to greener industrial hydrogen production’,1 in which the electrification of conventionally fired chemical reactors is described as having the potential to reduce CO2 emissions and provide flexible and compact heat generation. By integrating an electrically heated catalytic structure directly into a steam-methane-reforming (SMR) reactor for hydrogen production, intimate contact between the electric heat source and the reaction site drives the reaction close to thermal equilibrium, increases catalyst utilisation and limits unwanted by-product formation. The integrated design with small characteristic length scales allows compact reactor designs, potentially 100 times smaller than current reformer platforms.

  1. Wismann ST, Engbæk JS et al 2019, ‘Electrified methane reforming: A compact approach to greener industrial hydrogen production’, Science, vol. 34, issue 6442, pp. 756-759.

Image: The new syngas technology can reduce the size of the reactor from a 30 m long six-storey building to a unit 100 times smaller. (Source: Haldor Topsoe)

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