Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Chemical Engineering

Major Professor

Burton Krakow, Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

John Wolan, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Elias Stefanakos, Ph.D.


energy, ruthenium oxide, sulfuric acid, solar, sulfur, electrolyte


Hydrogen production is dependent on natural gas, 90% in the U.S. and 48% of the world’s production. Natural gas supply is dwindling and it’s price is increasing. Greenhouse gases and air pollutants are emitted when natural gas is used. In a single product production facility, coal is not competitive with natural gas for hydrogen production at current prices. Hydrogen production by direct electrochemical dissociation of water requires a relatively high voltage.

Techniques have been developed for manufacturing hydrogen as a lucrative byproduct of IGCC electric power generation, refinery sulfur production and sulfuric acid production for fertilizer production. Laboratory experiments have been conducted on small systems to advance the technology and full size commercial plants have been conceptualized and analyzed to establish economic viability.

In this thesis, a low voltage electrochemical hydrogen production technique has been developed that entails scavenging of the anode with sulfur dioxide. In an electrochemical cell hydrogen is produced at the negative electrode while the positive electrode is bathed in sulfur dioxide which is oxidized with water to sulfuric acid. The presence of SO2 substantially reduces the equilibrium voltage relative to that required for the direct dissociation of water into hydrogen and oxygen. Also sulfuric acid is a more valuable byproduct than oxygen. More sulfuric acid is produced than any other chemical commodity in the U.S. and is a major economic indicator. Hydrogen produced by the electrochemical route being discussed in this thesis illustrates industrial possibilities for large scale-up, economical hydrogen production.

In an electrochemical cell, an equilibrium voltage of 1.23 volts is required to decompose water into hydrogen and oxygen. The presence of sulfur dioxide to scavenge the anode can reduce the equilibrium voltage from 1.23 volts to 0.17 volts. The equations shown below are reactions showing the energy requirements.

2H2O -> 2H2 + O2 - 4 Faradays @ 1.2V

2SO2 + 4H2O-> 2H2SO4 + 2H2 - 4 Faradays @ 0.17V

The thermochemical free energy is reduced from 113kcal/mole to 15kcal/mole if sulfur dioxide is used as a scavenger.

In this work, extensive studies to determine the most effective electrodes and catalysts have been carried out. The possibilities for photo electrochemical implementation have been investigated and cell design optimization has been performed Experimental methods and results will be presented and discussed.