Technology

Helbio’s technology is based on proprietary and patented reactor – catalyst configurations for reformation processes. The reactor configurations utilize the concept of the Heat-Integrated Wall-Reactor (European Patent 94600005.6/13.07.94. U.S.A. Patent No. 6, 605 376 (Aug. 12 .2003 ) which offers very rapid heat exchange characteristics.

One of the major advantages of the company are the novel, proprietary catalysts that have been developed for the reformation of fuels, either in the steam reforming or the partial oxidation modes. These catalysts exhibit improved characteristics with respect to activity, selectivity towards hydrogen and thermal stability. They are used in the form of thin films deposited on metallic surfaces, or deposited on other structural forms, such as monoliths and foams.

HIWAR Patented Technology

Helbio has also developed novel, non-pyrophoric and highly active catalysts for the water gas shift (WGS) reaction and for the selective methanation of CO. The whole series of catalysts enable the efficient production of high purity hydrogen which is suitable for use in low- temperature fuel cell applications.

Of primary interest to Helbio is the production of renewable hydrogen, primarily by utilization of biomass components and derivatives. Among threes are bioethanol, which is produced by fermentation of biomass, and biogas which is produced by anaerobic digestion of biomass. Significant quantities of biogas are produced in waste water treatment plants and in municipal solid waste sites. A process for the production of both biofuels is proposed, as shown in the diagram.

GH2™ multi-fuel processor

The GH2 is a commercial prototype multi-fuel processor representing the culmination of HELBIO’s technology development to date. The processor has a nominal capacity of 10 Nm3/h of H2. Although primarily designed for ethanol, it also operates with natural gas and LPG. When integrated with a PEM fuel cell, it will produce 10 kW electric energy and 17 kW thermal energy.

This unit is fully integrated thermally and thus achieves the highest possible thermal efficiency. The fuel reformer is of the “heat integrated wall reactor”-type and is operating in the steam reforming mode. The unit utilizes catalysts which have been developed by HELBIO. The fuel processor has been in operation with ethanol since December 2004. The performance has been excellent so far.

Natural gas is still the preferred raw material for hydrogen production. Biogas (mostly methane and CO2) is now emerging as a renewable, low cost source of hydrogen.

Prof. Verykios has been developing fuel processing and reformate gas conditioning technology for methane for the last fifteen years. He has discovered novel catalytic materials and has developed novel reactor configurations and process schemes for the reformation of methane either with steam (both all thermal and auto thermal) or with CO2 (dry reforming).

The technology has been demonstrated both in laboratory micro-units and in pilot plants and has led to a number of papers published and a patent awarded. The technology has been incorporated into the GH2 multi-fuel processor.

LPG Reforming

LPG (propane, butane) is a widely available and common fuel that can be processed for hydrogen production. It benefits from its worldwide distribution network and from people’s familiarity with its use. HELBIO has developed LPG processing technology and is targeting such processors to industrial hydrogen users, remote CHP users and mobile APUs.

Ethanol Reforming

GH2 is the only commercial apparatus producing hydrogen by steam reforming of bio-fuels and especially ethanol (renewable hydrogen). Biofuels are environmentally friendly since they are totally renewable. They do not pollute and do not contribute to the build-up of CO2 in the atmosphere (CO2 is the major contributor to the greenhouse effect that causes major climatic changes in our planet). The CO2 produced during the biofuels utilization is the same one as used by the plants for their growth in the biomass production phase. There is, then, a practically closed carbon cycle with no negative impact to the environment. Furthermore, biofuels can be produced locally, affecting positively the energy supply security balance.

Ethanol is an easily transportable, safe to handle and store, non-toxic liquid fuel that can be used everywhere since mishaps do not lead to significant environmental damage as is the case with oil. Ethanol is already a major fuel in Brazil and in the USA and is making its way to Europe. Its current price is significantly lower than that of gasoline on a heating value equivalent while it qualifies for CO2 credits.

HELBIO has developed the technology in terms of catalysts, reactors and processes for the efficient production of hydrogen from ethanol. The process can operate either in steam reforming or autothermal mode. The technology for ethanol steam reforming is incorporated in GH2.

Even though steam reforming is a more efficient process, there are times when the dynamics of the process are more important than the ultimate efficiency and autothermal reforming is the preferred mode of operation. Such is the case for mobile applications like APU’s and vehicle propulsion trains. HELBIO has developed advanced catalysts and reactors for autothermal reforming of ethanol for these applications

Helbio’s technology is based on proprietary and patented reactor catalyst configurations for reformation processes. The reactor configurations utilize the concept of the Heat Integrated Wall Reactor which offers very rapid heat exchange characteristics.

Within the steam reforming process of gaseous fuels, the following reactions take place for the production of a gaseous mixture of hydrogen and carbon oxides:

CnHm + H2O = nCO + (n+m/2)H2 ,

CO + H2O = CO2 + H2

The steam reforming reaction is an endothermic process which demands heat for its conduction. The independency of the fuel processor is achieved via simultaneously combustion of a part of the fuel, in order to produce the heat required for the reaction of steam reforming:

CnHm + xO2 = yCO2 + zH2O

HELBIO has developed appropriate plate heat exchangers type reactors, inside which both reactions take place simultaneously in separated chambers (HIWAR concept). These reactors are very efficient, compact and exhibit high heat integration.

According to the HIWAR concept, metal plates coated with a suitable catalyst are arranged in such a manner that exothermic and endothermic reactions take place in each side of the sheet. The produced heat, via exothermic combustion, is transferred via conduction through the metallic walls towards the endothermic reaction of steam reforming, which take place at the opposite side of metal plate.

The advantages of CPR (catalytic plate reactors) design over conventional reactors are the superior heat transfer characteristics and minimal intra-catalyst diffusion resistance. The heat transfer mechanism within a CPR is via conduction through the metallic plates and as such is largely independent of the process gas superficial velocity. The catalyst layers within a CPR are thin resulting in minimal diffusion limitations and thus high catalyst utilization. These advantages result in reactors which are smaller, lighter and with a reduced associated pressure drop compared to conventional alternatives.

Catalysts

Development of novel catalytic materials has been the hallmark of Prof. Verykios for the last 25 years. The new processes developed opened new avenues for research into such materials for hydrogen production from bio-fuels as well as conventional fuels such as natural gas, LPG etc.

Steam Reforming Catalysts

The successful research produced a series of proprietary catalysts for the reformation of ethanol and other fuels in both steam and autothermal reforming mode. These catalysts exhibit improved characteristics with respect to activity, selectivity towards hydrogen, thermal and long-term stability. They have been tested at all scales