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ECE's Chen, Shan part of new research on converting methane to hydrogen
Stephen Greenwell
Jiefu Chen
Jiefu Chen
Xiaonan Shan
Xiaonan Shan

A pair of professors from the Cullen College of Engineering are partnering with a colleague from Howard University to spur clean energy development via the use electromagnetic energy assisted hydrogen generation from fossil fuels.

Currently, about 96 percent of global hydrogen production is obtained from hydrocarbon (e.g. by coal gasification, oil/naphtha reforming, and steam reforming of methane), and the methane reforming takes 48 percent of the total hydrogen production in the world. It is extremely important to find an efficient way to convert the methane to hydrogen with the minimized carbon foot print.

Associate professor Jiefu Chen and assistant professor Xiaonan Shan, both of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, are the leads on the project for the University of Houston to find a more efficient way to convert the hydrocarbon, such as methane, to hydrogen using the microwave plasma.

In this project, they will design and simulate the catalyst structure, geometry, and materials to control the localized micro-plasma generation and therefore improve the microwave heating efficiency and boost the methane pyrolysis conversion rate and selectivity.

The principal investigator is Su Yan, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at Howard University. The total funding for the project is about $400,000, with the UH portion of the grant totaling about $190,000.

Shan said the research would be ongoing for several years.

“Basically, in this proposal, we are studying the possibility of using electromagnetic waves (microwaves) to enhance the hydrogen generation from fossil fuel,” he said. “We are mostly focused on using a computational tool to study that. Currently, we are reaching out to oil companies in Houston to seek extra funding to experimentally demonstrate it.”

As part of the grant, there is funding to hire one minority or underrepresented graduate student researcher. Shan said that student had not yet been identified yet.

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