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Advances in Acid Concentration Membrane Technology for the Sulfur-Iodine Thermochemical Cycle

Frederick F. Stewart and Christopher J. Orme. Chemical Sciences, Idaho National Laboratory, P.O. Box 1625, Idaho Falls, ID 83415-2208

One of the most promising cycles for the thermochemical generation of hydrogen is the Sulfur-Iodine (S-I) process, where aqueous HI is thermochemically decomposed into H2 and I2 at approximately 350 degrees Celsius. Regeneration of HI is accomplished by the Bunsen reaction (reaction of SO2, water, and iodine to generate H2SO4 and HI). Furthermore, SO2 is regenerated from the decomposition of H2SO4 at 850 degrees Celsius yielding the SO2 as well as O2. Thus, the cycle actually consists of two concurrent oxidation-reduction loops. As HI is regenerated, co-produced H2SO4 must be separated so that each may be decomposed. Current flowsheets employ a large amount (~83 mol% of the entire mixture) of elemental I2 to cause the HI and the H2SO4 to separate into two phases. To aid in the isolation of HI, which is directly decomposed into hydrogen, water and iodine must be removed. Separation of iodine is facilitated by removal of water. Sulfuric acid concentration is also required to facilitate feed recycling to the sulfuric acid decomposer. Decomposition of the sulfuric acid is an equilibrium limited process that leaves a substantial portion of the acid requiring recycle. Distillation of water from sulfuric acid involves significant corrosion issues at the liquid-vapor interface. Thus, it is desirable to concentrate the acid without boiling. Recent efforts at the INL have concentrated on applying pervaporation through Nafion-117, Nafion-112, and sulfonated poly(etheretherketone) (S-PEEK) membranes for the removal of water from HI/water and HI/Iodine/water feedstreams. In pervaporation, a feed is circulated at low pressure across the upstream side of the membrane, while a vacuum is applied downstream. Selected permeants sorb into the membrane, transport through it, and are vaporized from the backside. Thus, a concentration gradient is established, which provides the driving force for transport. In this work, membrane separations have been performed at temperatures as high as 134 degrees Celsius. Transmembrane fluxes of water are commercially competitive (~5000 g/m2h) and separation factors have been measured as high as 8000, depending on the membrane and the water content. For the Nafion-117 experiments, the common trade off in membrane performance is observed in that as flux is increased, separation factor decreases. Nafion-112, a thinner membrane, exhibited much higher fluxes than the Nafion-117; however without the expected loss in separation factor indicating that the permeability of iodine and HI through Nafion materials is low. Preliminary data for the sulfuric acid concentration suggests performance similar to the HI experiments. All membranes studied for the HI, HI/iodine and sulfuric acid feeds exhibited no degradation in membrane performance during use.