Photocatalytic Steam Methane Reforming for Hydrogen Production

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OPEN 2018
Houston, Texas
Project Term:
02/11/2019 - 09/10/2020

Critical Need:

Most liquid fuels used in transportation today are derived from petroleum and burned in internal combustion engines (ICEs). This combination is attractive because of the high energy density of the fuels and current economics, but it partially relies on imported petroleum and is highly carbon intensive. Alternatives to ICEs, such as hydrogen fuel cells that convert chemical energy to electricity, have shown promise in vehicle powertrains, but are hindered by the cost and inefficiencies in fuel transport and storage. Carbon-neutral liquid fuels (CNLFs), such as ammonia, used with fuel cells, offer an alternative that addresses these challenges. These fuels can be produced by converting water and air using chemical or electrochemical processes powered by renewable electricity. They can also be easily stored and transported using existing liquid fuels infrastructure to the point-of-use. However, there are technical challenges associated with converting CNLFs to hydrogen for use in conventional fuel cells. Advanced materials such as membranes and catalysts and new electrochemical processes are required to efficiently generate hydrogen or electricity from energy-dense CNLFs at higher conversion rates and lower costs.

Project Innovation + Advantages:

Syzygy Plasmonics will develop a system that uses light to catalyze reactions inside a traditional chemical reactor. The team will construct a reactor that can be used for small-to-medium-scale generation of fuel cell quality hydrogen from ammonia, to be incorporated into existing infrastructures like hydrogen refueling stations for fuel cell vehicles. By using light instead of heat to drive the ammonia decomposition, the reactor can keep temperatures much lower, which reduces energy consumption, carbon emissions, and operational and capital costs while enhancing flexibility.

Potential Impact:

Syzygy Plasmonics will develop the world’s first commercially feasible, scalable photocatalytic reactor that produces low-cost and on-demand hydrogen gas at the point-of-use.


The U.S. transportation sector deeply depends on petroleum for its energy. Increasing the diversity of energy-dense liquid fuels would bolster energy security.


Liquid fuels created using energy from renewable resources are carbon-neutral, helping reduce transportation sector emissions.


This technology would enable hydrogen fueling stations for transportation and dramatically change the way chemicals are manufactured globally by powering chemical reactions with light instead of high heat and high pressure. Chemical sectors directly impacted include hydrogen, ammonia, methanol, fuels from CO2, and others. This technology will enhance the competitiveness of U.S. chemical and energy industries.


ARPA-E Program Director:
Dr. Grigorii Soloveichik
Project Contact:
Dr. Suman Khatiwada
Press and General Inquiries Email:
Project Contact Email:


Rice University

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