Ekona Power, a Canadian cleantech startup founded in 2017, develops methane pyrolysis technology that uses pulsed combustion and high-speed gas dynamics to split natural gas into clean hydrogen and solid carbon. The company’s solution is designed to be low-cost, scalable, and easy to integrate, leveraging existing natural gas infrastructure. It does not require water for hydrogen production, few electricity resources, and does not rely on carbon dioxide sequestration infrastructure to make it clean.
Challenges: hydrogen fuel
Hydrogen (H₂) is a crucial component in the production of ammonia, which is a key ingredient in many fertilizers, plastics, and other essential products. The majority of the world’s hydrogen (over 60 million tons) is produced via steam methane reforming (SMR) process. This process requires a significant amount of energy input and contributes about 2% of global carbon dioxide (CO₂) emissions. The SMR process emits between 5 and 9 tons of CO₂ per ton of hydrogen produced.
Ekona Power Technology
Ekona Power develops pulsed methane pyrolysis technology that uses natural gas and air to produce hydrogen with 95% less CO₂ emission than conventional SMR-based hydrogen production methods.
Ekona Power hydrogen
The diagram (top) schematic depicts the structure of a pulsed methane pyrolysis (PMP) chamber to produce hydrogen, while the diagram (bottom) shows an object of a PMP chamber.
The pulsed methane pyrolysis chamber includes a combustion chamber, a reactor chamber, gas passageways, and valves. The combustion chamber is located in the center of the reactor chamber, which it surrounds. The combustion chamber wall has a series of jet orifices to facilitate communication between the two chambers. The combustion chamber can also be located outside the reactor chamber (not shown here, see US20220185663A1).
Following is a description of how pulsed methane pyrolysis operates.
At the beginning of the cycle, as depicted in the figure below, a preheated (600 K to 1,300 K, below the reaction point) and pressurized gas mixture of fresh natural gas and recycled product gas is introduced into the reactor chamber to displace the products from the previous cycle. At the same time, a preheated (400 K to 700 K) and pressurized gas mixture of air and recycled product gas mixture is introduced into the combustion chamber to displace the products of combustion. All inlet and outlet valves are then closed. Since the gas pressure in each chamber is equal, there is minimal gas exchange between the two.
The gasses in the combustion chamber are then ignited, as depicted in the figure below. The pressure and temperature within the combustion chamber increase dramatically,
As depicted in the figure below, the hot combustion gas products enter the reactor chamber through jet orifices, thereby compressing the feedstock gasses and increasing their pressure and temperature. Moreover, the hot combustion gas products transfer their thermal energy to the feedstock gasses, increasing their temperature further. Due to the high temperature and pressure of the feedstock gasses, methane undergoes pyrolysis, producing hydrogen and carbon particles.
The reaction proceeds for a period of time to complete the desired reaction. As depicted in the figure below, the pressure within the reactor chamber is then rapidly reduced by releasing the products to an external volume (not shown). This decrease in pressure lowers the temperature and quenches the pyrolysis reaction. Additionally, this rapid depressurization removes carbon particles from the reactor wall. Combustion product gasses in the combustion chamber may be vented out with the reactor chamber gasses or though a dedicated port.
PMP system for ammonia synthesis
As depicted in the diagram below, Ekona Power develops a pulsed methane pyrolysis system that uses natural gas and air to generate hydrogen and nitrogen at a 3:1 ratio in order to synthesize ammonia using the commercial Haber-Bosch process.
The system includes a pulsed methane pyrolysis chamber, carbon separator, hydrogen separator, and ammonia synthesis unit. The pulsed methane pyrolysis chamber has a combustion chamber and a pyrolysis reaction chamber, both of which are connected via a series of jet orifices. The hydrogen separator is a pressure swing adsorption (PSA) unit that does not filter small molecules like nitrogen.
The natural gas and air are each pressurized with compressors in order to mix a proportion of recirculated tail gas which is itself repressurized by a recirculation compressor. Preheated feedstock gas mixture and combustion gas mixture are loaded at equal pressures into the combustion chamber and reactor chamber, respectively, so that no gas is transferred between the chambers. When the combustible gas mixture is ignited, the combustion dramatically increases the combustion chamber’s temperature and pressure. The residual combustion products are water, CO₂, CO, and nitrogen.
The hot combustion product gas expands through the jet orifices until pressure equilibrium is reached in both chambers. As a result, the reactor chamber’s natural gas mixture is heated and pressurized to over 20 bar and at least 1,350 K, at which point the methane quickly begins to decompose by thermal pyrolysis, producing hydrogen and solid carbon. The reactor chamber’s products are composed of hydrogen, carbon, unreacted methane, and residual combustion products.
The pyrolysis reaction is quenched by opening the outlet valve to depressurize the reactor chamber. At the same time, the combustion chamber is depressurized by opening the combustion chamber outlet valve. A fraction of combustion products is vented out by opening the vent valve. The degree of venting is controlled to adjust the quantity of nitrogen that circulates in the system so that the final ratio of hydrogen to nitrogen in the product syngas is 3:1. For example, the vent valve could be opened to expel up to 80% of the residual combustion product gas during each reaction cycle.
The reactor products and unvented combustion products are then combined to form a mixed product stream. Carbon particles are separated. The resulting gas stream is then sent to a PSA hydrogen separator. The output of the hydrogen separator is a mixed syngas stream of hydrogen and nitrogen at a desired 3:1 ratio for ammonia synthesis. This mixed syngas stream is sent to a reactor in the Haber-Bosch process, where it is reacted at a high pressure and a high temperature over a catalyst to form ammonia.
The tail gas from the hydrogen separator, which consists of nitrogen, hydrogen, methane, CO, and CO₂, is ultimately recycled to the reactor, so the only net emissions from the system are from the vent gas. This vent emission equates to approximately 0.27 kg CO₂/kg H₂ for venting 80% combustion chamber gas during each reaction cycle, representing an over 95% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to hydrogen production from natural gas reforming systems.
Ekona Power Patent
- US20220203326A2 Method and reactor for producing one or more products
- US20220052364A1 Method for producing hydrogen and generating electrical power
- US20220006112A1 Molten carbonate direct carbon fuel cell systems and methods
- CA3170579C Method of recycling carbon to a feedstock gas reactor
- US20220185664A1 Methods of producing one or more products using a feedstock gas reactor
- US20220185663A1 Methods of producing hydrogen and nitrogen using a feedstock gas reactor
Ekona Power Technology Applications
Upgrading and refining
The clean hydrogen produced by Ekona’s technology can be used in upgrading and refining processes, which often require hydrogen as a reactant.
Clean hydrogen can be used in fuel cells to generate electricity, offering a cleaner alternative to fossil fuel-based power generation.
Hydrogen is a key input in the production of many chemicals, including ammonia and methanol. Ekona’s technology can provide a cleaner source of hydrogen for these processes.
Hydrogen can be used in steel production as a reducing agent, replacing carbon-intensive coke. This can significantly reduce the carbon footprint of the steel industry.
Natural gas transmission and distribution
Ekona’s technology can be used to decarbonize natural gas usage, providing a low-cost solution for reducing the carbon footprint of natural gas transmission and distribution networks.
Ekona Power Products
Ekona’s xCaliber™ reactor is at the core of their technology. The company is currently testing the reactor in the laboratory. The pilot scale can produce about 200 kg of hydrogen per day. The company plans to have their first field unit deployed in 2024, with additional commercial units in progress by 2025.
Ekona Power Funding
Ekona Power has raised a total of $68M in funding over 5 rounds:
Their latest funding was raised on Feb 1, 2022 from a Series A round.
Ekona Power Investors
Ekona Power is funded by 15 investors:
- Baker Hughes
- Natural Gas Innovation Fund
- Breakthrough Energy Solutions Canada
- Mitsui & Co
- BDC Capital Corporation
- Severstal Ventures
- National Research Council Canada
- Emissions Reduction Alberta (ERA)
- Natural Resources Canada
- Pacific Economic Development Canada
- British Columbia Innovative Clean Energy Fund
- Evok Innovations
Ekona Power Founder
Chris Reid is Co-Founder.
Ekona Power CEO
Chris Reid is CEO.
Ekona Power Board Member and Advisor
Chris Reid, Denis Conor, Marty Reed, and Nigel Jerveyare are board members.