H2 Pump Case Study 

Recycling Hydrogen to Increase Efficiency and Reduce Waste

Although it is one of the most abundant chemical elements on earth, hydrogen is too light for the Earth's gravitational pull, and most hydrogen leaves the earth’s atmosphere. Therefore, hydrogen is typically found in compound form and must be separated to make hydrogen gas, an intensive and costly process.

Hydrogen gas is widely used in industrial processes, most commonly in processing foods, microelectronics and chemicals, and refining and treating metals. Currently, industry must pay companies to make hydrogen, purify it, pressurize it, put it in tanks and deliver it for one-time use.   

“So much of what we do is based on fundamental chemistry. But we see applications. We’ll look at something and say, ‘what they really need is this.’”

Several years ago, we realized that the fuel cell membrane developments in our group could be used to recover, purify and recycle hydrogen. A schematic of a hydrogen pump is shown in the diagram below. The hydrogen pumping process is quite elegant in that, like a fuel cell, molecular hydrogen enters the anode compartment, is oxidized to protons and electrons as the catalyst, and then the protons are driven through the membrane while the electrons are driven through the electrically conductive elements of the cell. The major difference in this cell as compared to a fuel cell is that the pump is operated in an electrolytic mode, not galvanic, meaning that power is required to "drive" the proton movement. Once the protons emerge from the membrane at the cathode, they recombine to form molecular hydrogen. Thus, hydrogen can be pumped and purified in a single step with a non-mechanical device. The pump concept builds upon the understanding of proton transport membranes and further takes advantage of the high temperature capability of PBI membranes. We have found that the PBI based hydrogen pump can pump and purify hydrogen from fairly dilute gas streams that contain substantial amounts of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and other impurities.

Today, New York-based H2 Pump, LLC is developing this membrane-based technology in its H2 Pump device to manufacture a “3-in-1” device that allows companies to recover, purify, and reuse hydrogen with greater than 90% efficiency.

The implications of this technological advance are wide-ranging and far reaching. We hope this will become a positive advancement for industry, our environment, and the goal of energy independence.