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Ceramic microreactors developed
for on-site hydrogen production
E. Kloeppel, Physical Sciences Editor
photo to enlarge
by L. Brian Stauffer
professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering,
holds a model of the ceramic microreactor
Illinois researchers designed and built for
reforming of hydrocarbon fuels, such as propane,
into hydrogen for use in fuel cells and other
portable power sources.
Scientists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have designed
and built ceramic microreactors for the on-site reforming of hydrocarbon
fuels, such as propane, into hydrogen for use in fuel cells and other
portable power sources.
Applications include power supplies for small appliances and laptop
computers, and on-site rechargers for battery packs used by the military.
“The catalytic reforming of hydrocarbon fuels offers a nice solution
to supplying hydrogen to fuel cells while avoiding safety and storage
issues related to gaseous hydrogen,” said Paul Kenis, a professor
of chemical and biomolecular
engineering at Illinois and corresponding author of a paper accepted
for publication in the journal Lab on a Chip, and posted on its Web
In previous work, Kenis and colleagues developed an integrated catalyst
structure and placed it inside a stainless steel housing, where it successfully
stripped hydrogen from ammonia at temperatures up to 500 degrees Celsius.
In their latest work, the researchers incorporated the catalyst structure
within a ceramic housing, which enabled the steam reforming of propane
at operating temperatures up to 1,000 degrees Celsius. Using the new
ceramic housing, the researchers also demonstrated the successful decomposition
of ammonia at temperatures up to 1,000 degrees Celsius.
High-temperature operation is essential for peak performance in microreactors,
said Kenis, who also is a researcher at the university’s Beckman
Institute for Advanced Science and Technology. When reforming hydrocarbons
such as propane, temperatures above 800 degrees Celsius prevent the
formation of soot that can foul the catalyst surface and reduce performance.
“The performance of our integrated, high-temperature microreactors
surpasses that of other fuel reformer systems,” Kenis said. “Our
microreactors are superior in both hydrogen production and in long-term
Kenis and his group are now attempting to reform other, higher hydrocarbon
fuels, such as gasoline and diesel, which have well-developed distribution
networks around the world.
The research team includes Kenis and graduate students Michael Mitchell
and Christian. Funding was provided by the U.S. Department of Defense,
Army Research Office, National Science Foundation and the U. of I.
Editor’s note: To reach Paul Kenis, call
217-265-0523; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Christian is the entire name of the graduate student named in the last