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Reversible Molten Catalytic Methane Cracking Applied to Commercial Solar-Thermal Receivers


When driven by sunlight, molten catalytic methane cracking can produce clean hydrogen fuel from natural gas without greenhouse emissions. To design solar methane crackers, a canonical plug flow reactor model was developed that spanned industrially relevant temperatures and pressures (1150–1350 Kelvin and 2–200 atmospheres). This model was then validated against published methane cracking data and used to screen power tower and beam-down reactor designs based on “Solar Two,” a renewables technology demonstrator from the 1990s. Overall, catalytic molten methane cracking is likely feasible in commercial beam-down solar reactors, but not power towers. The best beam-down reactor design was 9% efficient in the capture of sunlight as fungible hydrogen fuel, which approaches photovoltaic efficiencies. Conversely, the best discovered tower methane cracker was only 1.7% efficient. Thus, a beam-down reactor is likely tractable for solar methane cracking, whereas power tower configurations appear infeasible. However, the best simulated commercial reactors were heat transfer limited, not reaction limited. Efficiencies could be higher if heat bottlenecks are removed from solar methane cracker designs. This work sets benchmark conditions and performance for future solar reactor improvement via design innovation and multiphysics simulation.

Related subjects: Production & Supply Chain
Countries: United States

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