Computational study of staged membrane reactor configurations for methane steam reforming. I. Optimization of stage lengths



This article and Part II report a computational study carried out to analyze the performance achievable using a staged membrane reactor in the methane steam reforming process to produce high purity hydrogen. A reaction/separation unit in which reactive stages are laid out in series to permeative stages already proposed in literature (Caravella et al., J Memb Sci. 2008;321:209–221) is modified here to increase its flexibility. The improvement includes the consideration of the Pd-based membrane along the entire length. Two- and ten-staged reactors are examined in terms of methane conversion, hydrogen recovery factor and hydrogen recovery yield, considering co- and counter-current flow configurations. Individual stage lengths are obtained by maximizing either methane conversion or hydrogen recovery yield, comparing the results to the ones of an equivalent traditional reactor and a conventional membrane reactor. The analysis allows demonstrating that the counter-current configuration leads to significant improvements in the hydrogen recovery, but proves almost irrelevant with respect to methane conversion. The influence of the number of stages and the amount of catalyst is quantified in the accompanying part II article. © 2009 American Institute of Chemical Engineers AIChE J, 2010