Ofelia JianuMechanical engineering professor Ofelia Jianu is leading a UWindsor team working to advance the use of hydrogen in sustainable energy systems.

Team working to ease transition to a hydrogen-based economy

UWindsor engineering professors are contributing to a national momentum that’s mapping out the future of hydrogen in Canada.

Hydrogen has the potential to become a major fuel of the future since it can be produced from clean sources such as water, says Ofelia Jianu, a mechanical engineering professor and director of the Intelligent Fuels and Energy Laboratory (I-FuELs).

Dr. Jianu is leading a UWindsor team developing new predictive models for hydrogen generation to advance its integration in sustainable energy systems.

“Hydrogen is an energy carrier that can be produced from local, zero-carbon sources and consumed by non-emitting devices such as fuel cells,” Jianu says. “Therefore, transitioning to a hydrogen-based economy would alleviate concerns related to climate, air quality, and energy security as well as create new economic opportunities for Canadians.”

The most common method of hydrogen production utilizes steam in a chemical process that converts methane to hydrogen and releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

“In order to achieve a future hydrogen economy and zero emissions, more sustainable methods of hydrogen production are needed,” she adds.

The team aims to enhance clean methods of hydrogen production called thermochemical cycles, which undergo a series of chemical reactions in three different reactors at various temperatures to split water without releasing particulates or greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

According to Jianu, past studies have examined momentum, heat transfer and mass transfer within the reactors where the reactions take place, but limited studies have examined the transport of materials from one reactor to the next to complete the cycle. This is paramount, she says, because it affects the overall performance and rate of hydrogen produced.

“Our team will focus on this area by examining multiphase flows and transport phenomena with a ShadowSizer system, which we acquired through project support,” Jianu says.

The ShadowSizer system is a state-of-the-art microscopic backlit camera that is used to freeze particle motion, which allows researchers to measure and examine particle size, velocity, and shape.

The $144,000 project is funded in part by the Canada Foundation for Innovation, Ontario Research Fund, and Dantec Dynamics and includes co-investigators Ram Balachandar and David Ting from the Faculty of Engineering.

The Government of Canada is striving to position the country as a global leader in hydrogen technologies. Its Hydrogen Strategy for Canada, released in December 2020, aims to cement hydrogen as a key part of the country’s path to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The report quotes Seamus O’Regan, minister of natural resources, as saying: “As we rebuild our economy from the impacts of COVID-19 and fight the existential threat of climate change, the development of low-carbon hydrogen is a strategic priority for Canada,”

It follows the Ontario government’s establishment of a Hydrogen Strategy Working Group, which aims to support the province’s clean technology sector and environment plan.

—Kristie Pearce