Rimere ($10 million to develop hybrid plasma technology to produce clean hydrogen from natural gas)

Rimere, an American cleantech startup founded in 2020, develops an advanced plasma technology that reforms methane, a major component in natural gas, into carbon-negative hydrogen gas and solid carbon (graphene). By decarbonizing the existing natural gas infrastructure, Rimere aims to rapidly achieve a clean hydrogen solution that the world urgently needs.

Challenges: hydrogen fuel

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.

Traditionally, the world has leaned heavily on steam methane reforming (SMR) to produce over 60 million tons of hydrogen annually. However, this method comes with a significant environmental cost. It's an energy-intensive process that contributes approximately 2% to the global carbon dioxide (CO₂) emissions, releasing between 5 and 9 tons of CO₂ for every ton of hydrogen it generates.

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.

Rimere Technology

Rimere has developed hybrid plasma technology that converts methane (CH₄) or natural gas into hydrogen gas and carbon (graphene). Hybrid plasma is a combination of microwave plasma generated by a microwave generator and dielectric barrier discharge plasma generated by an induction system. The hybrid plasma efficiently energizes methane and dissociates it into its elemental parts of hydrogen and carbon. Rimere’s reactor uses a sequential hybrid plasma design that efficiently reforms methane into hydrogen gas and graphene.

How Rimere reforms methane to hydrogen and carbon

As depicted in the diagram below, Rimere uses an induction system to generate plasma, such as dielectric barrier discharge (DBD) plasma.

An induction system generates plasma.
An induction system generates plasma.

The system has a low-turn primary coil and a high-turn secondary coil, which are placed near each other. They work together to form a step-up transformer. A high-voltage power supply sends electrical current through the primary coil, which in turn induces current in the secondary coil. The secondary coil drives a higher voltage to energize capacitively coupled electrodes, generating plasma.

One of the advantages is that this induction system can provide a very high voltage to the plasma electrodes without transmitting such a high voltage directly to the electrodes through the power line. This avoids power leakage.

Based on this induction system, Rieme has developed a hybrid plasma reactor that converts methane into hydrogen and carbon, as depicted in the diagram below.

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