Feasibility of the direct generation of hydrogen for fuel-cell-powered vehicles by on-board steam reforming of naphtha

Naif A. Darwish, Nidal Hilal, Geert Versteeg, Bert Heesink

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A process flow sheet for the production of hydrogen to run a 50kW fuel-cell-powered-vehicle by steam reforming of naphtha is presented. The major units in the flow sheet involve a desulfurization unit, a steam reformer, a low temperature (LT) shift reactor, a methanation reactor, and a membrane separator unit. The flow sheet is simulated using HYSYS (a steady state simulator) and the material and energy flows for each stream are obtained. For the peak load of 50kW, it is found that 14 l/h naphtha is needed, which means that a 70 l fuel tank in the vehicle is sufficient for 5 h drive. The amount of water needed is not a critical factor, since it is generated in the fuel cell and quantities of water-makeup can be kept at the minimum level. Catalytic processes involved are briefly reviewed and commercial catalysts used are indicated. The amount of catalyst required in each reactive unit is computed by employing the design parameters (temperature, pressure, and space velocities) reported in the literature. In the desulfurization step, it is found that about 1.6 l of a bed of ZnO is capable of handling a stream of naphtha with 1500 ppm of sulfur for 45 h of continuous operation before regeneration or replacement of the bed becomes necessary. This, however, is based on operation at 10atm. Operation at lower pressure level will increase the desulfurization catalyst requirements, maybe to a prohibitive level. Over the reformer Liquid-Hourly Space-Velocity range of 1-4 h-1, the amount of the supported nickel catalyst varies from 14 to 4 l, respectively. For the LT shift reactor the amount of catalyst required ranges from 4 to 60 l on going from 3 × 102 to 4 × 103h-1 typical Gas-Hourly Space-Velocity. The catalyst here is CuO-ZnO supported on Al2O 3. The last methanation step to remove traces of poisonous CO requires about 3.5 l of nickel supported by various oxides. To selectively separate hydrogen, it is suggested to use a palladium-silver membrane, which is reported to give ultra-pure hydrogen.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)409-417
Number of pages9
Issue number4-5
StatePublished - Mar 2004


  • Gas-hourly space-velocity
  • Liquid-hourly space-velocity
  • Steam-to-carbon ratio

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemical Engineering
  • Fuel Technology
  • Energy Engineering and Power Technology
  • Organic Chemistry


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