The new process occurs in two steps. The first step uses existing methods to separate the hydrogen sulfide gas that naturally contaminates unprocessed oil from the base crude oil. The hydrogen sulfide gas is then sent through molten copper which filters out the sulfur and results in a stream of pure hydrogen gas with a copper sulfide byproduct. The hydrogen gas can be captured for later use in any number of industrial applications. In addition, the copper sulfide separates into pure copper and sulfuric acid when the copper sulfide reacts with air, allowing the copper to be reused. The sulfuric acid produced is also a valuable product used widely in the chemical and agricultural industries.
The separation of the oil and the hydrogen sulfide gas uses existing technology, but the use of molten copper to generate pure hydrogen gas from the hydrogen sulfide is new and is the first process that results in usable hydrogen gas. Most other processes result in losing the hydrogen as water.
The Argonne-KPM process also removes other impurities from the unprocessed oil including ammonia and various hydrocarbons. These other impurities are not removed by the other methods currently used to remove the hydrogen sulfides from oil. In particular, the Claus process – the most widely used current method for removing hydrogen sulfides from unprocessed oil – ignores other impurities in the oil.
This new process is still in the preliminary testing phase; tests to date have been limited but very positive. The next step is creating a pilot scale reactor to test the process in field conditions, albeit on a smaller scale than commercial oil refineries would use. Argonne and KPM believe this pilot reactor will provide enough proof of the effectiveness of the new process to interest industry in retrofitting their existing hydrogen sulfide separate plants or build new ones using molten copper reactors. Argonne and KPM also hope to modify the technology for use in other industrial applications such as for gas cleanup tasks in integrated gasification combined cycle plants.
TFOT has previously reported on other interesting oil-related technologies including petrol excreting single cell organisms, nanosponges that can soak up oil spills, oil-repelling fabrics created at MIT, and a nano-lubricant that increases both lubricity and stability when mixed with standard motor oil.
You can read more about the molten copper reactor in the Argonne National Laboratory press release, and more information can be found at the Energy Systems page on the Argonne National Laboratory website.