Researchers from Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IITB), Mumbai have looked at the economic feasibility of a solar driven electrolysis plant to produce hydrogen. The study provides a framework for the economic assessment of solar hydrogen production.
Hydrogen power has gained popularity in recent times, due to the various threats posed by burning fossil fuels. It is one the most abundant elements in the universe, making it easily accessible and cheap to produce, compared to fossil fuels. Much like fossil fuels, hydrogen powered machines work similar to an internal combustion engine. A mixture of fuel, in this case hydrogen, and air is ignited within the engine, which in turn powers the pistons. However, unlike a fossil fuels, burning hydrogen produces no harmful fumes, with the only exhaust fume produced being water.
In their new study, the researchers provide a framework for the thermodynamic and economic assessment of solar hydrogen production from the high-temperature steam electrolysis (HTSE) route. HTSE is a process of producing hydrogen from water. The researchers conducted an economic analysis of an electrolyzer, powered by concentrated solar plant and photovoltaic power plant. Next, the researchers calculated the lelvelized cost of hydrogen (LCOH2)—which can be defined as the net present value of unit-cost of hydrogen, for 2030 scenario. The viability of the electrolyzer method was tested by comparing the results obtained with that of another well known process; polymer electrolyte membrane electrolysis (PEME).
Comparing the results, the study reveals around 3% increase in the energy efficiency of photovoltaics driven process. The results also showed a drop in levelized cost of hydrogen from 16 $/kg to 12.1$/kg. The study shows that while the PEME process is still preferred as the electrolysis process is not competitive with the industrial steam methane reforming route, in the current state of economics. However, say the researchers, “the cost target of 6-8$/Kg is achievable if the component cost reduce to 2030 level. Thus, the process has potential to be commercially viable and should be pursued further by creating prototype and pilot scale demonstrations”