Hydrogen is often seen as an essential component of a clean energy profile, with the potential to fulfill many of our power and heating needs. Currently, the vast majority of hydrogen is produced through the steam reformation of natural gas, a process that inherently produces large amounts of carbon dioxide. We are exploring new ways to produce hydrogen at the price of steam reformation, but in a carbon neutral manner.
Our lab is investigating the method of methane cracking, where natural gas is heated to high temperatures and broken into hydrogen gas and solid carbon. This technology is limited by the tendency for solid carbon to deposit in undesirable places. If we are able to solve the problem of carbon deposition, we will be able to tap into the abundance of natural gas to create a low-cost and carbon neutral method of hydrogen production, opening the doors to a clean and sustainable future.
Proton-exchange membrane (PEM) water electrolyzers (PEMWEs) are a promising energy technology for electrochemical generation of low-cost, clean hydrogen by splitting water using renewable electricity. The goal is to produce affordable electrolytic hydrogen without sacrificing durability or efficiency.
This project with Kusoglu group focuses on enhancing the durability of electrolyzer membranes by providing a scientific understanding of the underlying factors controlling membrane stability during device operation. For electrolyzers to be commercially feasible, PEMs must perform over long lifetimes in liquid environments under compression while maintaining mechanical stability.
PEMWEs use a solid-electrolyte polymers membrane as the separator which functions in a hydrated environment. Such a hydrated environment, while inherent for operation and proton conductivity, undermines PEM stability. This work aims to develop new testing procedures using custom-designed setups to monitor the time-dependent response of hydrated PEMs. Our recent results show that PEMs exhibit creep under compression, with a dependence on the pressure and hydration, which signifies to the importance of mechanical characterization under stressors relevant to device operation.