(570d) Catalyst Design for Microwave-Assisted Dry Reforming of Methane

Authors: 
Marin, C., National Energy Technology Laboratory
Kauffman, D. R., National Energy Technology Laboratory
The dry reforming of methane (DRM) produces H2 and CO (syngas) from CO2 and CH4. In this regard, DRM enables “carbon neutral” syngas production because it consumes CO2 as a reactant, whereas conventional methane steam reforming generates over nine tons of CO2 for each ton of H2. Using CO2 to produce commodity chemicals, such as H2 and CO, can generate revenue to offset carbon capture costs, reduce the carbon footprint of fossil-fuel powered processes, and allow sustainable use of our country’s fossil fuel resources. Unfortunately, the high operating temperatures of DRM (>800°C) introduce challenges compared with the lower-temperature, carbon-positive, methane steam reforming.

Recently, microwave-assisted catalysis has been proposed as an enabling technology for high temperature chemical processes. Unlike traditional thermal heating, microwaves can rapidly heat catalysts to extremely high temperatures, which allows reactors to utilize excess renewable energy on an intermittent basis (load follow) to promote traditionally challenging, thermally-driven reactions. Moreover, microwaves directly heat the catalyst material, and not the entire reactor body, which reduces many of the traditional heat management challenges associated with high temperature DRM. Microwave absorption is a function of the electronic and magnetic properties of a material, and a properly designed catalyst can function as a both a microwave heater and a reactive surface for driving the desired reaction. However, microwave absorption is extremely sensitive to the catalyst’s chemical state and electronic structure, and effective catalysts must maintain microwave activity across a wide range of temperatures and in both oxidative and reductive environments.

We have constructed a single-mode microwave reactor and investigated microwave assisted DRM using conductive metal oxides. In particular, the conductive cobalt based perovskites (ex: La0.8Sr0.2CoO3) are attractive because they readily convert microwave energy into heat. Additionally, perovskites have good thermal stability at temperatures in excess of 1000oC, unlike conventional carbon-based microwave absorbers which must be kept below 900oC to avoid pyrolytic carbon sublimation. The conductivity of these oxides allows them to inductively heat in the microwave similar to metals or carbon-based absorbers, but with the advantage of maintaining conductivity even in oxidative environments. We have demonstrated the rapid heating of the microwave DRM reactor and were able to ramp from a ground state to reaction temperature (>700oC) in less than 3 minutes with consistent on-off cyclability. Using such a system, temperatures of 850oC and over 50% DRM conversion with an almost ideal 1:1 CO to H2 ratio have been achieved using less than 100W of applied microwave power, demonstrating the suitability of microwave catalysts for rapid, efficient, and carbon neutral syngas production.