Converting bioethanol into hydrogen for fuel cells becomes significantly simpler with innovative metal catalysts
A process known as ethanol steam reforming is creating opportunities for fuel cell researchers, thanks to the recent rise of the bioethanol industry. This technique generates hydrogen gas (H2) directly within fuel cell systems onboard vehicles by decomposing bioethanol in the presence of special catalysts — an approach that could use current gasoline delivery infrastructures to power alternative energy transportation. Currently, ethanol steam reforming suffers from a major obstacle: its multiple reaction pathways can produce toxic carbon monoxide (CO) byproducts that ruin fuel cell membranes.
Lin Huang, Jianyi Lin and co-workers from the A*STAR Institute of Chemical and Engineering Sciences in Singapore have now prepared a novel metal catalyst that can eradicate CO emissions from ethanol-derived H2 at temperatures 50 °C lower than previous catalysts1.
Low-temperature ethanol steam reforming boosts the safety and efficiency of fuel processing onboard vehicles, but requires a careful choice of catalysts. Rhodium (Rh), a relatively scarce transition metal, has gained attention among chemists because it targets ethanol’s carbon–carbon bond — the most difficult part of the alcohol to decompose. However, Rh catalysts tend to generate CO and methane byproducts when steam reforming conditions fall below 350 °C.
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