June 27, 2005

R&D firm advances hydrogen generation using solar-derived process energy

SHEC-Labs (Solar Hydrogen Energy Corporation), a research and development company based in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, recently reported that its prototype solar hydrogen generator has operated for approximately 1,200 hours with no noticeable coking or degradation of the catalysts. The unit is producing hydrogen at a rate close to the theoretical maximum, and the company estimates maximum hydrogen production with the unit to be approximately 3,500 kilograms (kg) per year, following minor modifications.

The next stage of development will likely be a commercial-scale demonstration at a landfill gas site using 40,000-kg-per-year hydrogen production modules. This project alone-a small-to-medium-sized landfill gas operation-will prevent more than 1.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO(2)e) from entering the atmosphere over the next 20 years and will significantly improve local air quality and reduce smog, says SHEC. This one plant would consist of 30 modules for a total annual production of 1.2 million kg (550 million cubic feet) of hydrogen per year. SHEC-Labs is currently in the process of capitalizing to deploy its first commercial-scale plant. Once this plant is operational, the company says it can be repeatedly duplicated.

Most hydrogen is currently produced using steam methane reformation (SMR) of fossil fuels such as oil, coal, and natural gas. In addition to releasing large amounts of CO2 and other pollutants to the atmosphere, the SMR process creates a net energy loss of 30 to 35% when converting methane into hydrogen because it uses a great deal of fossil energy or electrical power.

By contrast, solar hydrogen production provides uses solar energy to drive the process, resulting in a net energy gain when converting methane into hydrogen. Since SMR is not typically cost-effective at small-to-moderate production levels, SHEC's technology is particularly attractive for smaller and distributed hydrogen production. The environmental benefits of generating hydrogen using renewable energy include significant greenhouse gas reductions, and the reduction of smog precursors, acid gases, and mercury as a result of reduced local need for oil, coal, and natural gas.

A further benefit of the process, says SHEC, is its ability to use a renewable source of methane and carbon dioxide, such as biogas from municipal wastewater plants and landfill gas. Renewable methane generated from biomass results in no net increase of CO2 levels in the atmosphere when the methane is converted into hydrogen by SHEC's solar hydrogen generator.

SHEC-Labs is a research and development company dedicated to renewable energy technologies, with special focus on harnessing solar energy more economically, and producing hydrogen economically from both fossil fuels and biogas sources. More information is available from SHEC-Labs president Tom Beck, 306/956-2225, E-mail tbeck@shec-labs.com, Web site www.shec-labs.com.

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