Image: Oberon Fuels

The United States Department of Energy has funded a public-private cooperation between Los Alamos National Laboratory and Southern California-based Oberon Fuels.

The Laboratory/Oberon collaboration is planned to scale up steam reforming technology for the production of renewable hydrogen (rH2) from renewable dimethyl ether (rDME), a novel technique for boosting the worldwide supply of renewable hydrogen.

The effort is supported by the DOE’s Technology Commercialization Fund, which invests in mature, promising energy technologies with the potential for widespread adoption. It is also part of DOE’s “H2@Scale” initiative, which seeks to accelerate the development of a hydrogen economy by funding advanced technology research, development, and demonstration (RD&D) with industrial partners.

Renewable DME has the potential to solve the two primary impediments to widespread hydrogen adoption: a lack of cost-competitive, sustainable production and an absence of energy-dense storage and transportation.

DME is a hydrogen-rich molecule that can be created utilizing Oberon’s modular manufacturing technology from waste and/or renewable resources. Due to the fact that DME is handled similarly to propane/liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), it requires little modifications to the worldwide LPG distribution network and leverages the experience of its current staff. This research will result in the final phase – the development of technology capable of converting rDME to rH2 fuel at the point of consumption.

“Our novel approach to generating hydrogen flips the current model on its head,” said Rebecca Boudreaux, Ph.D., President and CEO of Oberon Fuels. “We are producing a hydrogen-rich molecule, moving it using existing, low-cost infrastructure, and converting it to hydrogen fuel on demand. We are thrilled to partner with Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Department of Energy to meet Secretary Jennifer Granholm’s vision for a hydrogen economy.”

This experiment expands on the Laboratory’s previous “bench-top” demonstration of a DME steam reforming process, which produced 0.018 kg of hydrogen per day. The goal is to grow production to 25 kg per day, a more than 1,300-fold increase in capacity. The theoretical and experimental results from this study will be utilized to further scale the process from 25 to 500 kg of renewable hydrogen per day, which exceeds the amount of renewable hydrogen currently consumed per day at an average hydrogen filling station for light-duty vehicles.

“Based on the guidelines for alternative fuels, the DOE requirements for hydrogen carriers, our own thermodynamics analyses, and our bench-scale proof-of-concept validation, we believe DME is ideally suited for the H2@Scale effort,” said Troy A. Semelsberger, Ph.D., a Technical Staff Member at Los Alamos National Laboratory. 

“The team at Los Alamos National Laboratory has already shown the advantages of DME-to-hydrogen reforming including lower reaction temperatures, which can reduce the operating costs and the system footprint. We cannot wait to build on this strong foundation to show that rDME can be a pathway to help decarbonize the transportation sector,” said Elliot Hicks, Chief Operating and Technology Officer and an Oberon Fuels co-founder.

Nedim Husomanovic

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