Renewable energy carriers from hydrogen and CO2 (SNSF Project)

The transformation from the fatuous consumption of fossil energy towards a sustainable energy circle is most easily marketable by not changing the underlying energy carrier but generating it from renewable energy. Hydrocarbons can be principally produced from renewable hydrogen and carbon dioxide, as the corresponding technical processes are already established.

The infrastructure, e.g., the natural gas pipelines, fuel stations, heating in households, gas power plants exists and could be further used without extra effort. However, primarily goal of most industrialized chemical processes are aiming at the production of a chemical compound with highest economic efficiency. The energy efficiency is important, too, but usually ranks as a secondary parameter. This is different in chemical processes aiming for the production of a chemical energy carrier. A chemical energy carrier, e.g. hydrogen, is a vector, i.e., it is most important how much energy can be delivered with it considering also the conversion losses; an energy carrier costing more energy for production than it delivers does not make any sense.

The energy efficiency of the production and conversion reactions is thus the most relevant parameter. At Empa, we are addressing this issue from various perspectives, i.e.,

  • investigation of reaction mechanisms using advanced spectroscopy such as diffusive reflectance infrared spectroscopy, inelastic neutron spectroscopy, etc.: where and why do energy losses occur? NFP 70 project “Catalytic methanation of industrially derived CO2”
  • development of new catalysts following novel approaches such as transition metal sulfides for CO2 reduction. NFP 70 project “Catalytic methanation of industrially derived CO2”
  • development of new processes: a success story is the sorption enhanced methanation, BFE/FOGA project “SmartCat”
  • demonstration and optimization of pilot plants, BFE/FOGA project “SmartCat”
  • new conversion devices: state-of-the-art is the combustion of hydrocarbons at high temperatures (internal combustion engines, gas turbines, high temperature fuel cells). We are exploring new ways such as thermo-photovoltaic energy conversion.
  • Identification of CO2 sources and development of technology for energy efficient CO2 capture


Selected publications:

  • A. Borgschulte, R. Delmelle, R. B. Duarte, A. Heel, P. Boillat and E. Lehmann, Water distribution in a sorption enhanced methanation reactor by time resolved neutron imaging, Phys. Chem. Chem. Phys. 18, 17217 (2016).
  • A. Borgschulte, N. Gallandat, B. Probst, R. Suter, E. Callini, D. Ferri, Y. Arroyo, R. Erni, H. Geerlings and A. Züttel, Sorption enhanced CO2 methanation, Phys. Chem. Chem. Phys., 2013, 15, 9620.
  • C. Gebald, J. A. Wurzbacher, A. Borgschulte, T. Zimmermann, A. Steinfeld, Single-component and binary CO2 and H2O adsorption of amine-functionalized cellulose, Environmental Science and Technology 48, 2497 (2014).