Modern Hydrogen (also known as Modern Electron), an American cleantech startup founded in 2015, develops methane pyrolysis technology that converts natural gas to clean hydrogen and carbon black. The company’s technology is designed to be smaller, modular, and intended for decentralized applications, meaning the hydrogen gas won’t have to be shipped or piped to new locations.
Challenges: carbon emissions
Natural gas is a commonly used fossil fuel for heating homes and buildings, but its use can have significant environmental impacts. When natural gas is burned to generate heat, carbon dioxide (CO₂) is released into the atmosphere, contributing to global greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. In addition to CO₂, natural gas combustion also produces other greenhouse gasses such as methane (CH₄), which is even more potent than CO₂ in terms of its warming potential. As such, while natural gas is a relatively clean-burning fossil fuel compared to coal and oil, its use still contributes to the overall carbon footprint of households and the environment.
Hydrogen (H₂) is the holy grail of clean fuels that produce energy and water as a by-product. It is a carbon-free substitute for fossil fuels. Hydrogen as a fuel can decarbonize many areas of our economy that renewable electrification cannot yet reach. However, hydrogen is difficult to transport and distribute.
Currently, the majority of hydrogen is produced by large scale industrial reactors. Hydrogen must travel a great distance to reach its users. We cannot deliver hydrogen through the existing natural gas pipelines because hydrogen can embrittle many components of the normal gas pipelines. The replacement of all existing natural gas pipelines with new hydrogen-compatible pipelines may be prohibitively expensive.
Hydrogen transportation involves either pressurizing the hydrogen gas above 300 pounds per square inch gage (psig) or cryogenically cooling the hydrogen gas to -253 ºC to create liquid hydrogen. The International Energy Agency estimates that the costs of hydrogen transportation could be three times that of its production.
Modern Hydrogen Technology
Modern Hydrogen develops on-site natural gas decarbonization technology that produces clean hydrogen and separable carbon without emitting CO₂. By using the combustion heat from on-site produced hydrogen, Modern Hydrogen’s technology of combined heat and power device generates electricity and transfers waste heat to a heating system to provide hot water or steam to residential buildings. As depicted in the diagram below, the operation of the system emits no CO₂ while delivering heat and electricity to residential buildings.
Modern Hydrogen reactor
Modern Hydrogen develops several natural gas pyrolysis reactor systems that can produce clean hydrogen or hot flue gas for power generators and heating systems. The schematic diagram below depicts a molten media reactor system that converts natural gas into hydrogen and separable carbon in a high temperature molten media (such as potassium chloride).
The input path supplies natural gas (CH₄) to the reactor. The natural gas forms bubbles in the reaction chamber’s high temperature molten media (at least 650 ºC). Heat from the molten media causes the pyrolysis reaction to occur:
CH₄(gas) → C(solid) + 2H₂(gas)
The resulting carbon particulates and hydrogen gas exit the reaction chamber. Some carbon particles are not carried out by the hydrogen gas flow. Therefore, the reaction camber can integrate a mechanical carbon separator that removes carbon from the molten media (not shown here. There are examples in US20220315424A1).
The carbon particles and hydrogen gas flow that exit the reaction chamber are separated by carbon separators. The first carbon separator removes relatively large carbon particles and carbon particles that are contaminated with molten media, then returns the contaminated particles to the reaction chamber and sends the filtered output towards the second carbon separator. The second carbon separator removes smaller particles to further refine the output stream of hydrogen gas.
The filtered hydrogen can be burned partially by the pyrolysis reactor’s burner that heats the reactor chamber and partially by the combined heat and power device, which generates electrical power and hot water for residential or office buildings.
Modern Hydrogen AMTEC
The diagram below depicts a combined heat and power device, which has a burner and at least one alkali metal thermal-to-electricity converter (AMTEC).
The alkali metal thermal-to-electricity converter has a sodium (Na⁰) fluid. Using input heat from the burner, the sodium fluid is vaporized in the high pressure sodium vapor zone at a temperature between 800 and 1,300 K. The sodium vapor is in contact with a porous anode. Receiving heat flux from condensation, the sodium fluid is recondensed in the low pressure sodium vapor zone at a temperature between 400 and 700 K. The low pressure sodium vapor is in contact with a porous cathode. Between the porous electrodes is a hermetic solid electrolyte membrane, [Na/K] β″-alumina (BASE), which is an electronic insulator and an ionic conductor for sodium ion (Na⁺) generated from sodium fluid.
The fundamental mechanism of power generation in the AMTEC is through oxidation and reduction of the sodium fluid at different potentials on either side of the solid electrolyte membrane:
Anode: Na⁰ → Na⁺ + e⁻
Cathode: Na⁺ + e⁻ → Na⁰
These reactions occur at the triple phase boundary between the sodium fluid, the electrode matrix, and the solid electrolyte. Consequently, the performance of the system depends on the morphology of this interface, such as shape, structure, pattern, size, surface texture, and roughness. This morphology allows the Na⁺ to enter the BASE and contributes to cell current. The open circuit voltage is on the order of 1 V.
Several alkali metal thermal-to-electricity converters are attached to the burner. The burner combusts hydrogen gas that is produced by the methane pyrolysis reactor. The flame transfers heat to the high pressure zone of AMTEC. The low pressure zone of AMTEC is thermally coupled to a heat exchanger to transfer waste heat to a heating system.
The AMTEC has an electrical power output capacity of no more than 50 kW. It is suitable for use in a heating appliance such as furnaces, boilers, and water heaters in residential or commercial buildings. The diagram below depicts a combined heat and power device with a boiler that is used to heat water and distribute hot water (or steam) in a residence building.
Modern Hydrogen Patent
- US20220315424A1 Systems and methods for local generation and or consumption of hydrogen gas
- US20220120217A1 Power cells and heat transfer systems for combined heat and power, and related systems and methods
- US20210351722A1 Combined heating and power modules and devices
Modern Hydrogen Technology Applications
The company’s technology is designed to be smaller, modular, and intended for decentralized applications.
The hydrogen produced through Modern Hydrogen technology can be used for energy production, in industrial processes like steel manufacturing, and in fuel cells. The hydrogen burns cleanly, producing water vapor as a byproduct, making it a clean energy source.
Using the existing natural gas pipes, hydrogen can be produced locally. This means the hydrogen gas won’t have to be shipped or piped to new locations, reducing transportation costs and emissions.
The carbon black produced through Modern Hydrogen technology can be used to manufacture goods such as tires, rubber, and ink. Modern Hydrogen is also exploring the use of carbon black in the construction industry. The company has demonstrated the effective sequestration of carbon in asphalt and road pigments, reducing the carbon footprint of natural gas and the construction and maintenance of pavement.
Modern Hydrogen Products
Modern Hydrogen’s MH500 is a hydrogen generator that strips the carbon out of natural gas to supply clean hydrogen to existing operations. The unit is designed to sit on-site, providing a decentralized and efficient solution for hydrogen production.
The company sequesters the solid carbon byproducts in asphalt and road pigments, effectively reducing the carbon footprint of natural gas and the construction and maintenance of pavement.
Modern Hydrogen Funding
Modern Hydrogen has raised a total of $73.6M in funding over 5 rounds:
Their latest funding was raised on Mar 28, 2023 from a Series B round.
Modern Hydrogen Investors
Modern Hydrogen is funded by 14 investors:
- Bill Gates
- Metaplanet Holdings
- Starlight Ventures
- Washington State Department of Commerce
- Extantia Capital
- Wieland Group
- Valo Ventures
- Invention Science Fund
- Miura Co.,Ltd.
- Gates Frontier Fund
- National Grid Partners (NGP)
- NextEra Energy Resources
Modern Hydrogen Founder
Modern Hydrogen CEO
Tony Pan is CEO.