Atlantic Hydrogen is now working with Canada’s largest natural-gas producer, Calgary-based EnCana Corp, on a scaled-up system that can operate at higher pressures. It has already demonstrated that the system can operate at 150 pounds per square inch with potential to go much higher. EnCana has already committed $3 million to the project. “They’ve had great success in getting up to the operating pressures we would need in our field applications,” says Larry Weiers, EnCana’s vice president of energy technology and research. “Our expectation is that this hydrogen-enriched natural gas will be a premium product, kind of like premium gasoline.”
Some aren’t convinced that the process has legs, though. Carbon-capture expert David Keith, a professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at the University of Calgary, says that the hydrogen-enriched natural gas will be less energy dense because of the precapture of the carbon. “You are throwing half the energy away in the carbon, so I don’t think it will ever have wide application,” he says.
But Weiers claims that the reduction in energy density is partially offset by efficiency gains during combustion–that is, the hydrogen enables a more complete burn of the gas. And while operation of CarbonSaver does require electricity, improvements to the plasma torch have made the process competitive with the energy required for steam methane reforming, which produces about 95 percent of the hydrogen used today in the United States and releases about eight tons of CO2 for every ton of hydrogen produced.
“The difference with us is we don’t release CO2 from our process,” says Wagner, adding that the benefits of the process are clear when looking at life-cycle emissions.
Felipe Chibante, director of the applied nanotechnology lab at the University of New Brunswick, has been contracted to analyze the physical properties of the carbon black that comes out of the plasma reactor. He says that the production and end use of the carbon black is what makes Atlantic Hydrogen’s process most compelling when compared with other carbon mitigation approaches. “Your choice is to pay somebody to remove the CO2 and bury it and lose that value, or take that carbon to make a product. What you’re doing is displacing the [conventionally produced]carbon-black product that does create CO2.”
Chibante and his research team are working with carbon-black maker Columbian Chemicals to identify a market for Atlantic Hydrogen’s carbon, which has “very interesting carbon nanostructures that we just don’t see from industrial production,” he says. An early study shows that the material has a high surface area and thin chicken-wire structures called graphene stacks, making it potentially ideal in the production of high-performance batteries and ultracapacitors and for structurally reinforced products.