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Hydrogen from catalytic reforming of biomass-derived hydrocarbons in liquid water


Concerns about the depletion of fossil fuel reserves and the pollution caused by continuously increasing energy demands make hydrogen an attractive alternative energy source. Hydrogen is currently derived from nonrenewable natural gas and petroleum1, but could in principle be generated from renewable resources such as biomass or water. However, efficient hydrogen production from water remains difficult and technologies for generating hydrogen from biomass, such as enzymatic decomposition of sugars2,3,4,5, steam-reforming of bio-oils6,7,8 and gasification9, suffer from low hydrogen production rates and/or complex processing requirements. Here we demonstrate that hydrogen can be produced from sugars and alcohols at temperatures near 500 K in a single-reactor aqueous-phase reforming process using a platinum-based catalyst. We are able to convert glucose—which makes up the major energy reserves in plants and animals—to hydrogen and gaseous alkanes, with hydrogen constituting 50% of the products. We find that the selectivity for hydrogen production increases when we use molecules that are more reduced than sugars, with ethylene glycol and methanol being almost completely converted into hydrogen and carbon dioxide. These findings suggest that catalytic aqueous-phase reforming might prove useful for the generation of hydrogen-rich fuel gas from carbohydrates extracted from renewable biomass and biomass waste streams.

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Figure 1
Figure 2: Selectivities (%) versus oxygenated hydrocarbon. H2 selectivity (circles) and alkane selectivity (squares) from aqueous-phase reforming of 1 wt% oxygenated hydrocarbons over 3 wt% Pt/Al2O3 at 498 K (open symbols) and 538 K (filled symbols).


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We thank K. Allen, J. Shabaker and G. Huber for assistance in reaction kinetics measurements. We also thank G. Huber for help with catalyst preparation/characterization and for TOC analyses, and M. Sanchez-Castillo for assistance with analysis of reaction products. We thank M. Mavrikakis and researchers at Haldor Topsøe A/S for reviews and discussion. This work was supported by the US Department of Energy (DOE), Office of Basic Energy Sciences, Chemical Science Division.

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Correspondence to J. A. Dumesic.

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R.D.C. and J.A.D. have co-founded a start-up company (Virent Energy Systems, limited-liability company) to develop the technology described in this paper for producing hydrogen from oxygenated hydrocarbons.

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Cortright, R., Davda, R. & Dumesic, J. Hydrogen from catalytic reforming of biomass-derived hydrocarbons in liquid water. Nature 418, 964–967 (2002).

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