Thermochemical water splitting cycles have been conceptualized and researched for over half a century, yet to this day none are commercially viable. The heavily studied Sulfur-Iodine cycle has been stalled in the early development stage due to a difficult HI-H₂O separation step and material compatibility issues. In an effort to avoid the azeotropic HI-H₂O mixture, an imidazolium-based ionic liquid was used as a reaction medium instead of water. Ionic liquids were selected based on their high solubility for SO₂, I₂, and tunable miscibility with water. The initial low temperature step of the Sulfur-Iodine cycle was successfully carried out in ionic liquid reaction medium. Kinetics of the reaction were investigated by I₂ colorimetry. The reaction also evolved H₂S gas, which led to the conceptual idea of a new Sulfur-Sulfur thermochemical cycle, shown below:
The critical step in the Sulfur-Sulfur cycle is the steam reformation of H₂S. This highly endothermic step is shown to successfully occur at temperatures in excess of 800˚C in the presence of a molybdenum catalyst. A parametric study varying the H₂O:H₂S ratio, temperature, and residence time in a simple tubular quartz reactor was carried out and Arrhenius parameters were estimated.
All reactive steps of the Sulfur-Sulfur cycle have been either demonstrated previously or demonstrated in this work. A theoretical heat-to-hydrogen thermal efficiency is estimated to be 55% at a hot temperature of 1100 K and 59% at 2000 K. As a highly efficient, all-fluid based thermochemical cycle, the Sulfur-Sulfur cycle has great potential for feasible process implementation for the transformation of high quality heat to chemical energy.