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Steam Methane Reforming

Steam methane reforming (SMR) is a process in which methane from natural gas is heated, with steam and a catalyst, to produce synthetic fuel.

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What is Steam Methane Reforming?

Steam methane reforming (SMR) is a process in which methane from natural gas is heated, with steam, usually with a catalyst, to produce a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen used in organic synthesis and as a fuel1. In energy, SMR is the most widely used process for the generation of hydrogen2.

In SMR, methane reacts with steam under 3-25 bar pressure (1 bar= 14.5 psi) in the presence of a catalyst to produce hydrogen, carbon monoxide, and a relatively small amount of carbon dioxide. Steam reforming reaction is endothermic, i. e. heat must be supplied to the process for the reaction to proceed.

In a “water-gas shift reaction,” the carbon monoxide and steam are reacted using a catalyst to produce carbon dioxide and more hydrogen. In a final process step called “pressure-swing adsorption,” carbon dioxide and other impurities are removed from the gas stream, leaving essentially pure hydrogen. Steam reforming can also be used to produce hydrogen from other fuels, such as ethanol, propane, or even gasoline3.

Steam-Methane Reforming Reaction
CH4 + H2O (+heat) → CO + 3H2
Water-Gas Shift Reaction
CO + H2O → CO2 + H2 (+small amount of heat)

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Context

Steam methane reforming is the most widely used process for the generation of hydrogen. This is largely due to its cost effectivness in obtaining a high level of purity in its produced hydrogen. The hydrogen obtained from SMR can be used in industrial processes and in fuel cells because of its purity.

Although hydrogen itself is an emission free fuel, the feedstock to produce the hydrogen often comes from natural gas which results in the emissions of greenhouse gases. Additionally, the SMR process requires vast amounts of heat and is therefore highly energy intensive.

As the world continues to consider a hydrogen economy, SMR technology will remain a critical piece of that puzzle.

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External resources

INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS

International Centre for Hydrogen Energy Technology

INTERNATIONAL OR PROMINENT INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION

Fuel Cell & Hydrogen Energy Association

International Association for Hydrogen Energy

American Hydrogen Association

Hydrogen Energy Center

RESEARCH INSTITUTION

Institute of Applied Energy

Energy Research Centre of the Netherlands (ECN)

ACADEMIC JOURNAL

International Journal of Hydrogen Energy

Energy & Fuels

Journal of Resource Technologies

Chemical Engineering Research & Design

HISTORY/CONTEXT

INTECH

California Environmental Protection Agency

US Department of Energy

National Renewable Energy Laboratory

POLITICS

Bipartisan Policy Center

The Hill

EU Commission

ECONOMICS

Chemical Engineering Research & Design Journal

International Partnership for Hydrogen & Fuel Cells in the Economy

ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT

U.S. Energy Information Administration

International Center for Hydrogen Energy (ICHE)

Chemical Engineering Research & Design Journal

International Journal of Energy Research

EU Commission

US Department of Energy

BUSINESS ANALYSIS

Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)

US Department of Energy

National Renewable Energy Laboratory

IRENA – Shipping sector

HEALTH IMPACT

DOW

International Journal of Occupational Hygiene

TECHNOLOGIES

IEA

SUSTAINABILITY

Business for Social Responsibility

Princeton University

OTHER INTERESTING ESSAYS/ARTICLES

Fortune.com

Energy & the Hydrogen Economy

US Department of Energy

TU Delf – Sustainable Hydrogen & Electrical Energy Storage

  1. Collins Dictionary (n.d.). Steam reforming. http://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/steam-reforming
  2. Linde Engineering (n.d.). Hydrogen and synthesis gas plants. http://www.linde-engineering.com/en/process_plants/hydrogen_and_synthesis_gas_plants/gas_generation/steam_reforming/index.html
  3. Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (n.d.). Natural gas reforming. http://energy.gov/eere/fuelcells/hydrogen-production-natural-gas-reforming
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