Canada Research Chair in Hydrogen and Catalysis
The efficiencies of chemical and electrochemical processes need to be increased in order to reduce their impact on the environment. Research in the field of catalysis has the potential to have a significant positive effect to address this need. Dr. Hill's group develops, characterizes and tests catalysts used in processes such as fuel cells, hydrotreating, and gasification (as described below). Our laboratory is fully equipped with a variety of characterization and testing equipment including adsorption apparatus, fuel cell (button cell) test rigs, impedance analyzers, fluidized chemical vapour deposition apparatus, high pressure kinetics rig, gas chromatographs, mass spectrometers, Fourier Transform Infrared spectrometer, and viscometer.
Fuel Cells: Fuel cells produce power and have several advantages over existing technologies including higher efficiencies, scalability (from micro- to mega-Watts), independence from the grid, and fuel flexibility. There are challenges with obtaining, storing, and transporting hydrogen and so it would be beneficial if fuel cells could operate directly on a variety of fuels. Solid-oxide fuel cells (SOFC) operate at temperatures above 600 C and can operate on hydrocarbon and alcohol fuels. To avoid carbon formation, steam is usually fed with these fuels to the SOFC. Higher efficiencies could be obtained if steam was not required. Our group has studied carbon formation on various anode materials under a variety of conditions (temperatures, current densities, fuel compositions, etc) and identified several ways to minimize carbon formation. More information on SOFC can be found at the NSERC SOFC Canada Strategic Research Network website (www.sofccanada.com).
Hydrotreating: Alberta has considerable heavy oil reserves but heavy oil is much more difficult to process than conventional oil due to its high viscosity, metals content, and sulfur content. With the declining amount of conventional oil available and increasing world energy demand, heavy oil is a resource that must be used. With industrial collaboration, we are working to develop sulfur-resistant catalysts for ring-opening and hydrogenation, and to develop better methods to characterize hydrotreating catalysts and supports.
Gasification: Gasification is a process to convert solid materials into gaseous products in the presence of steam and/or sub-stoichiometric oxygen. The advantages of gasification over combustion include higher potential overall energy efficiencies and conversion of difficult-to-handle feed materials into a gaseous fuel that can be handled with greater ease in conventional equipment designed for natural gas. Alternatively, the gaseous product can be converted to hydrogen or liquid fuels by reforming or by Fischer-Tropsch synthesis, respectively. The economics of gasification are heavily dependent, however, on the nature of the feedstock and on the location of the gasifier relative to both the source of the feedstock and to the ultimate user of the product. We have several gasification projects underway including the development of new methods for depositing catalysts onto gasification feedstocks, gasifying mixed feedstocks to take advantage of natural catalysts, and converting waste material to adsorbents that can be gasified to destroy various pollutants.