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Microprocessor of Dimethylether for Fuel Cells


Development of Catalytic Microprocessor of Dimethylether for Solid Polymer Fuel Cells

Tech Area / Field

  • CHE-IND/Industrial Chemistry and Chemical Process Engineering/Chemistry
  • NNE-FCN/Fuel Conversion/Non-Nuclear Energy

3 Approved without Funding

Registration date

Leading Institute
VNIIEF, Russia, N. Novgorod reg., Sarov

Supporting institutes

  • Boreskov Institute of Catalysis, Russia, Novosibirsk reg., Akademgorodok


  • Eindhoven University of Technology, The Netherlands, Eindhoven\nLawrence Livermore National Laboratory, USA, CA, Livermore\nInstitut für Mikrotechnik Mainz GmbH, Germany, Mainz\nKIST - Korea Institute of Science and Technology, Korea, Seoul\nUniversity of Twente / Faculty of Science and Technology, The Netherlands, Enschede

Project summary

The Project goal is to create a microstructured catalytic processor of dimethyl ether for hydrogen generation that is used in solid polymer fuel cells with proton-exchange membrane (PEMFC).

Works for recent years have shown that application of microreactors provides new opportunities in the hydrogen energy area while creating self-contained portable electric power sources that are designed to replace conventional electric batteries. At present, leading Western companies are developing and producing miniature-sized fuel processors for hydrogen generation to be used in fuel cells for residential application (notebooks, digital cameras, mobile phones, etc.). Currently, methanol is used, as a rule, as a source fuel, from which hydrogen is produced for fuel cells. However, methanol has a number of drawbacks, and its main drawback is its high toxicity. Since recently, dimethyl ether (DME) has been applied as a new promising environmentally friendly fuel for many processes. Dimethyl ether is used as an alternative to diesel fuel and liquefied gas (propane and butane mixture). In addition, dimethyl ether can be considered as a promising raw material for hydrogen production to be applied in fuel cells. It is of highly importance that dimethyl ether possesses great advantages as compared to methanol as a result of inertness and low toxicity thereof. This substance is converted easily into liquid phase at the pressure of 0,5 MPa as the propane-butane mixture and can be supplied directly from the cylinder to the microprocessor not using a mini-pump.

The proposed Project is aimed at development of a catalytic microprocessor for hydrogen production from dimethyl ether.

The key problem while creating microreactors for heterogeneous catalytic reactions is to develop a technique of applying catalytic coatings to the channel surface in the microreactor. The applied catalyst should possess high activity and selectivity, as well as it should have a strong bond with the microchannels’ surface.

It should be noted that the reaction of dimethyl ether reforming was not studied till 2000, and for several recent years only few papers on this topic have been published. According to the available literature data, the reaction runs in two stages: hydrolysis of dimethyl ether into methanol and methanol reforming. Hence, two reactors using different catalysts or one reactor with a specially developed bi-functional catalyst are needed. That’s why, one of main Project tasks will be identification of an optimal catalyst composition for steam reforming of dimethyl ether, as well as development and optimization of a catalytic coating in the microreactor’s channels.

Heat supply for the endothermic process of dimethyl ether reforming will be effected via catalytic combustion of dimethyl ether and residual hydrogen of anode gases. For this purpose, microstructured catalysts of hydrogen and DME combustion should be developed and tested.

In the result of the works fulfilled, an optimal composition of catalytic coatings for microreactors will be identified. In addition, kinetics of the processes of dimethyl ether reforming and hydrogen and DME catalytic combustion on developed catalysts will be studied in detail. Synthesized catalysts will be investigated while using various physical and chemical methods (X-ray analysis, X-ray spectrometry, electron microscopy, IR spectroscopy with Fourier transformation, diffusion reflection electron spectroscopy, EXAFS) in order to find out regularities of active component formation in the process of catalyst preparation. These works will be fulfilled at the Institute of Catalysis.

An important task is simulation of the catalytic microreactor based on study of the reaction kinetics to determine optimal characteristics and configuration of microstructured catalysts and arrangement thereof in the microprocessor. The microreactor simulation and design works aimed at simultaneous execution of dimethyl ether reforming and hydrogen and DME catalytic combustion will be carried out at RFNC-VNIIEF.

At the Project final stage, a microprocessor will be manufactured and its joint testing will be conducted by the Project participants from the Institute of Catalysis and RFNC-VNIIEF.

In the result of the Project implementation, the following results will be obtained:

  • Optimal materials of the support for microstructured catalysts will be chosen, and a technique of microchannel formation in the support will be developed;
  • A technique of applying porous secondary coatings on the microreactor channel surface will be developed;
  • Methods of preparing microstructured catalysts for the processes of dimethyl ether reforming and DME and hydrogen catalytic combustion in the microreactor will be developed;
  • Physical and chemical properties of prepared catalysts will be studied while using various physical and chemical methods (X-ray analysis, X-ray spectrometry, EXAFS, DRS, FTIR, TPD, TPR, etc.);
  • A mathematical model will be developed and characteristics of the microprocessor’s functional units will be calculated;
  • A microelectronic technique for obtaining profiled surfaces in the microchannel reactor based on chemical etching and laser technologies will be developed;
  • A pilot sample of the dimethyl ether microprocessor for hydrogen generation to be used in PEMFC will be manufactured;
  • The pilot microprocessor sample will be tested within the bench complex to simulate operation modes within the fuel cell-based power plant.

The Project successful implementation will be provided by a high qualification level of the Participating Institutes in the following areas:
  • Development and synthesis of oxide and metal catalysts, development of the manufacturing technique of catalysts of various geometric shapes, i.e. granulated, honeycomb, microstructured ones, etc., study of catalysts using up-to-date physical and chemical methods – Institute of Catalysis;
  • Great experience of studies in the area of materials science and development of fuel cell-based power plant components – RFNC-VNIIEF.

RFNC-VNIIEF has a multi-discipline research base for creation and development of defence products that enables to solve a wide range of scientific and technical problems, including those in the area of new catalytic materials. RFNC-VNIIEF possesses a versatile technological base for microelectronic production on the basis of chemical etching and laser technologies to perform profiled surfaces in microchannel reactors.

Consolidation of the expertise of highly qualified specialists in the area of catalysis, materials science and fuel cell-based power plant technologies will promote successful implementation of the proposed Project. The current program of works will allow to reorient defence scientists, engineers and technicians to applied research in the area of development of fuel cell-based power plants that meet present-day environmental requirements. Cooperation with foreign Collaborators will promote integration of Russian defence scientists into the world scientific community.

The role of foreign Collaborators in the Project will consist in information exchange, discussion of study results, consultations on the developed technique application abroad for solving similar problems and in joint tests of the pilot microprocessor sample.


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