CFD Simulation of a Hybrid Solar/Electric Reactor for Hydrogen and Carbon Production from Methane Cracking


Methane pyrolysis is a transitional technology for environmentally benign hydrogen production with zero greenhouse gas emissions, especially when concentrated solar energy is the heating source for supplying high-temperature process heat. This study is focused on solar methane pyrolysis as an attractive decarbonization process to produce both hydrogen gas and solid carbon with zero CO2 emissions. Direct normal irradiance (DNI) variations arising from inherent solar resource variability (clouds, fog, day-night cycle, etc.) generally hinder continuity and stability of the solar process. Therefore, a novel hybrid solar/electric reactor was designed at PROMES-CNRS laboratory to cope with DNI variations. Such a design features electric heating when the DNI is low and can potentially boost the thermochemical performance of the process when coupled solar/electric heating is applied thanks to an enlarged heated zone. Computational fluid dynamics (CFD) simulations through ANSYS Fluent were performed to investigate the performance of this reactor under different operating conditions. More particularly, the influence of various process parameters including temperature, gas residence time, methane dilution, and hybridization on the methane conversion was assessed. The model combined fluid flow hydrodynamics and heat and mass transfer coupled with gas-phase pyrolysis reactions. Increasing the heating temperature was found to boost methane conversion (91% at 1473 K against ~100% at 1573 K for a coupled solar-electric heating). The increase of inlet gas flow rate Q0 lowered methane conversion since it affected the gas space-time (91% at Q0 = 0.42 NL/min vs. 67% at Q0 = 0.84 NL/min). A coupled heating also resulted in significantly better performance than with only electric heating, because it broadened the hot zone (91% vs. 75% methane conversion for coupled heating and only electric heating, respectively). The model was further validated with experimental results of methane pyrolysis. This study demonstrates the potential of the hybrid reactor for solar-driven methane pyrolysis as a promising route toward clean hydrogen and carbon production and further highlights the role of key parameters to improve the process performance.

Funding source: This work was supported by the French “Investments for the Future” program. managed by the National Agency for Research, under contract ANR-10-LABX-22-01 (Labex SOLSTICE).
Related subjects: Production & Supply Chain
Countries: France

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