Suiso (£3 million to develop microwave pyrolysis of natural gas for on site clean hydrogen production)

Suiso, a UK cleantech startup founded in 2021, develops microwave plasma pyrolysis technology that converts natural gas and bio-methane to clean hydrogen and solid carbon with zero CO₂ emissions. The company’s technology is designed to be fitted directly to on-site hydrogen production, which eliminates the costs of hydrogen distribution, a significant barrier to the adoption of hydrogen energy.

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.

Additionally, centralized industrial plants produce hydrogen, which must travel a great distance to reach its users. Hydrogen transportation involves either pressurizing the hydrogen gas above 300 pounds per square 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 those of its production.

Suiso Technology

Suiso develops an on-site hydrogen gas production system based on microwave technology that converts natural gas and bio-methane into cost-competitive hydrogen gas and solid carbon without emitting CO₂. The company’s hydrogen gas production systems are capable of producing from 200 kg to 1,000 kg of hydrogen per day, and they can be specified to deliver hydrogen with a range of purities for different uses, from domestic/combustion applications to vehicle fueling.

How Suiso generates hydrogen from methane

The diagram below depicts Suiso’s microwave chamber for converting methane into hydrogen and solid carbon black particles.

Suiso microwave reaction chamber converts methane into hydrogen (ref. EP4334245A1).
Suiso microwave reaction chamber converts methane into hydrogen (ref. EP4334245A1).

In the microwave chamber, a quartz glass tube contains carbon black and iron oxide (Fe₂O₃) bed. Carbon black is a microwave absorbing material, and Fe₂O₃ functions as catalyst.

A waveguide is attached to the external wall of the microwave chamber. The waveguide guides the microwave radiation from the microwave energy generator into the chamber. The internal walls of the microwave chamber can reflect microwaves, so the generated microwaves are largely absorbed by carbon black in the tube.

During operation, preheated methane gas passes through the carbon black / Fe₂O₃ bed in the quartz glass tube inside the microwave chamber. The carbon black increases rapidly in temperature upon exposure to microwave radiation and prevents the formation of localized hot spots within the reactor. Carbon black does not react with methane, but it may react with Fe₂O₃ catalyst to form a Fe-C compound suitable for efficiently cracking methane.

The methane undergoes a pyrolysis reaction at about 500 ºC and a pressure of 0.5-2 atmospheres.

CH₄(gas) → C(solid) + 2H₂(gas)

At least 50 mol% of methane is converted to hydrogen gas in a single pass reaction. Fe₂O₃ produces carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide in a single pass process, which make up 0.1-10 vol % of the product gas.

Suiso hydrogen generation system

The diagram below depicts the Suiso system for microwave methane pyrolysis.

Suiso hydrogen generation system with moving bed (ref. EP4334245A1).
Suiso hydrogen generation system with moving bed (ref. EP4334245A1).

A plurality of microwave energy sources equip the system’s microwave reaction chamber. The microwave reaction chamber has a gas inlet and outlet. The quartz glass tube inside the microwave reaction chamber contains a moving bed of carbon black and Fe₂O₃. The bed retains a portion of the carbon black product.

A heat exchanger preheats the methane gas and a compressor pressurizes it before it enters the microwave reaction chamber. Methane passes through the carbon black / Fe₂O₃ bed within the quartz glass tube. At a temperature of 500 ºC and a pressure of 0.5-2 atmospheres, methane is converted into hydrogen and solid carbon black.

The microwave chamber’s hot output passes through the heat exchanger, which transfers heat to the input methane gas and preheats it. The cool output is sent through a separator, which separates carbon black particles from the gas phase. The separated carbon black particles are added to the moving bed within the microwave chamber. The gas phase passes through a filter, which filters fine carbon black particles. The remaining gas phase contains hydrogen, unreacted methane, and a small amount of carbon monoxide.

We separate hydrogen from the gas phase and store it for use. The small amount of carbon monoxide is separated by a carbon monoxide separator and delivered for combustion to provide heating in the preheater. We send the remaining unreacted methane back to the input methane gas stream.

Suiso claimed that its methane pyrolysis technology is more environmentally friendly compared to traditional methods of hydrogen production.  It is lower in cost and emissions than grid-powered electrolysis, as well as significantly lower than steam methane reforming (SMR). Additionally, it uses 80% less electrical energy than electrolysis, reducing the strain on the electrical grid network.

Suiso Patent

  • EP4334245A1 Microwave cracking of hydrocarbons

Suiso Technology Applications

  • Hydrogen vehicle filling stations

Suiso’s technology can be used to generate hydrogen for fueling stations, which are essential for the refueling of hydrogen-powered vehicles such as cars, buses, and trucks. This application supports the growing infrastructure for hydrogen mobility.

  • Biomethane conversion/decarbonization for grid injection

The technology can convert biomethane into hydrogen, which can then be injected into the natural gas grid. This process decarbonizes the gas supply and contributes to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

  • Light industrial applications

Suiso’s hydrogen generators can be used in light industrial settings where hydrogen is needed for various processes. This could include manufacturing, chemical processing, or any industry that requires a clean and efficient energy source.

  • Domestic hydrogen supply for small communities/towns

The technology can provide a domestic supply of hydrogen for small communities or towns, potentially replacing or supplementing traditional energy sources for heating and cooking.

  • Demand management/system top up

Suiso’s technology can be used for demand management and system top-up applications, where hydrogen can be generated and stored for use when energy demand peaks or to stabilize the energy grid.

  • Emergency hydrogen supply

In emergency situations where traditional energy supplies are disrupted, Suiso’s hydrogen generators can provide an essential and immediate source of power.

  • Carbon black applications

The carbon black produced through Suiso’s process can be used as an additive in dyes and inks, enhancing the color intensity and durability of the products.

Carbon black is a critical component in the manufacture of tyres, where it is used to improve the strength and durability of the rubber compounds. This application is one of the most significant uses of carbon black globally.

Carbon black can be used in the production of batteries and other electronic components.

Suiso Products

Suiso provides systems that can  on-site produce hydrogen with a range of purities for varying applications, from domestic/combustion applications (e.g. ISO-14687, Hy4Heat, etc.) to vehicle fuelling (e.g. ISO 14687, etc.).

Suiso Funding

Suiso has raised a total of £3M in funding over a Seed round raised on Mar 11, 2024.

Suiso Investors

Suiso is funded by 2 investors:

NPIF – Mercia Equity Finance and Mercia’s EIS funds are the most recent investors.

Suiso Founder

Stuart McKnight and SB Cha are Founders.

Suiso CEO

Stuart McKnight is CEO.

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