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New research into producing hydrogen from biomass

Researchers at the Technical University of Vienna (TU Wien) are developing a process in which biomass can be used to produce a hydrogen-rich gas that can then be employed in various ways in the iron and steel industry.

According to a news release from the University, the long-term vision of the project is a renewable energy source, firmly anchored in the design of an integrated iron and steel works.

The process developed at TU Wien converts biomass at high temperatures to produce two gas streams, a hydrogen rich producer gas and a CO2 rich waste gas. Known as a biomass reforming process, it is made possible by the use of lime in a special fluidised bed system.

In an integrated steel works combining the many production and finishing steps from pig iron to the finished steel product, it would be possible to use the hydrogen-rich production gas at various production stages, offering an environmentally friendly alternative to natural gas. At the same time, research is also being carried out on the waste gas stream. Under the new process, the CO2 that it contains is enriched and can thus be efficiently separated out or subjected to further processing. 

“From a chemical point of view, the important reactive step in the blast furnace process is the reduction of the iron ore,” explained Johannes Schmid, project manager at TU Wien’s Institute of Chemical Engineering. “In the natural ore, iron is present in the form of iron oxide, so the oxygen atoms first need to be separated from the iron atoms.”

Further research will be needed on the process chain, but the TU Wein scientists are optimistic. “At any rate we can show that a reductant gas can be obtained from biomass with the aid of a new process,” explained Florian Benedikt, Josef Fuchs and Stefan Müller, who are working on the project. “According to our measurements, in principle our production gas is a suitable additional biogenous energy source. The gas quality is at least equivalent to that which voestalpine is already using today for various processing stages in an integrated iron and steel works.”

“Our results are showing us that it is technically possible,” explained Schmid. “For high-quality biomass such as wood chips, though, it is not possible to illustrate economically the prospects for use under current conditions. That’s why further intensive research is necessary, so that we can also make it possible to use inexpensive biogenous raw materials.” 





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