PCC Hydrogen (Convert bioethanol and water into carbon-negative hydrogen)

PCC Hydrogen, an American clean tech startup founded in 2022, develops a technology that integrates a non-autothermal oxidative reforming reactor with a water electrolyzer to convert ethanol into hydrogen. When combined with carbon capture, this technology can make carbon-negative hydrogen in a way that is economic, efficient, and environmentally benign.

Challenges: green hydrogen

Hydrogen (H₂), the most abundant element in the universe, is not just a fundamental building block of stars—it's also a vital ingredient in the synthesis of ammonia. Ammonia production is at the heart of creating a plethora of products that we rely on daily, from the fertilizers that nourish our crops to the plastics that are woven into the fabric of modern life.

One of the major issues with current hydrogen production is that most of it comes from steam methane reforming (SMR), a process that is energy-intensive and emits a significant amount of greenhouse gasses. SMR's high energy consumption is due to the endothermic nature of the reforming reaction, which requires considerable heat input. SMR produces over 60 million tons of hydrogen annually. The process releases between 5 and 9 tons of carbon dioxide (CO₂) for every ton of hydrogen it generates. Without coupling with carbon capture and storage technologies, the resulting hydrogen is known as gray hydrogen, a name that reflects its environmental impact.

But there's a cleaner path forward: water electrolysis. This process splits water into hydrogen and oxygen using electric current and comes in various forms, including alkaline water electrolyzer (AWE), proton exchange membrane water electrolyzer (PEMWE), and solid oxide electrolysis cells (SOEC). When these electrolyzers are powered by renewable energy sources—think nuclear, solar, and wind power—the result is "green hydrogen."

However, water electrolysis contributes less than 0.1% to global dedicated hydrogen production. This is mainly due to its high cost and high energy requirements, since water hydrolysis requires considerable electricity in order to dissociate water to yield hydrogen and oxygen. The current electrolysis systems need between 53 and 70 kWh of energy for every kilogram of hydrogen they make. Therefore, the cost of electricity for the energy-intensive water electrolysis process is a significant factor in the high production cost of hydrogen generated by such systems.

PCC Hydrogen Technology

PCC Hydrogen has developed a technology that integrates a non-autothermal oxidative reforming reactor with a water electrolyzer to produce negative carbon-intensity hydrogen.

The non-autothermal oxidative reforming reactor uses oxygen byproducts from the water electrolyzer and processes a mixture stream of oxygen, ethanol, and water to achieve optimal hydrogen generation. This process does not require external heat, thus reducing energy consumption. The byproduct CO₂ that is captured is either sequestered or used for other applications. PCC Hydrogen’s integrated system can produce 1,500 kg of hydrogen per day for local filling stations that service fuel cell vehicles like cars, trucks, vans, forklifts, buses, robotic delivery caddies, and other motive delivery and transport systems.

How PCC Hydrogen produces hydrogen

The diagram below depicts PCC Hydrogen’s system that integrates a non-autothermal oxidative reforming reactor with  a water electrolyzer to convert aqueous ethanol solution to hydrogen.

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