skip to main content
OSTI.GOV title logo U.S. Department of Energy
Office of Scientific and Technical Information

Title: A comparative technoeconomic analysis of renewable hydrogen production using solar energy

Abstract

A technoeconomic analysis of photoelectrochemical (PEC) and photovoltaic-electrolytic (PV-E) solar-hydrogen production of 10 000 kg H2 day-1 (3.65 kilotons per year) was performed to assess the economics of each technology, and to provide a basis for comparison between these technologies as well as within the broader energy landscape. Two PEC systems, differentiated primarily by the extent of solar concentration (unconcentrated and 10× concentrated) and two PV-E systems, differentiated by the degree of grid connectivity (unconnected and grid supplemented), were analyzed. In each case, a base-case system that used established designs and materials was compared to prospective systems that might be envisioned and developed in the future with the goal of achieving substantially lower overall system costs. With identical overall plant efficiencies of 9.8%, the unconcentrated PEC and non-grid connected PV-E system base-case capital expenses for the rated capacity of 3.65 kilotons H 2 per year were 205 dollars MM (293 dollars per m 2 of solar collection area (m S -2 ), 14.7 W H2,P-1) and 260 dollars MM ($371 mS-2, 18.8 dollars WH2,P -1 ), respectively. The untaxed, plant-gate levelized costs for the hydrogen product (LCH) were $11.4 kg -1 and 12.1 dollars kg -1 for the base-case PECmore » and PV-E systems, respectively. The 10× concentrated PEC base-case system capital cost was 160 dollars MM (428 dollars mS -2, 11.5 dollars WH2,P -1) and for an efficiency of 20% the LCH was 9.2 kg -1 . Likewise, the grid supplemented base-case PV-E system capital cost was 66 dollars MM (441 dollars m S -2, 11.5 dollars W H2,P -1 ), and with solar-to-hydrogen and grid electrolysis system efficiencies of 9.8% and 61%, respectively, the LCH was 6.1 dollars kg-1 . As a benchmark, a proton-exchange membrane (PEM) based grid-connected electrolysis system was analyzed. Assuming a system efficiency of 61% and a grid electricity cost of $0.07 kWh -1 , the LCH was $5.5 kg -1 . A sensitivity analysis indicated that, relative to the base-case, increases in the system efficiency could effect the greatest cost reductions for all systems, due to the areal dependencies of many of the components. The balance-of-systems (BoS) costs were the largest factor in differentiating the PEC and PV-E systems. No single or combination of technical advancements based on currently demonstrated technology can provide sufficient cost reductions to allow solar hydrogen to directly compete on a levelized cost basis with hydrogen produced from fossil energy. Specifically, a cost of CO 2 greater than ~$800 dollars (ton CO2 ) -1 was estimated to be necessary for base-case PEC hydrogen to reach price parity with hydrogen derived from steam reforming of methane priced at $12 GJ -1 ($1.39 (kg H 2 ) -1). A comparison with low CO 2 and CO2 -neutral energy sources indicated that base-case PEC hydrogen is not currently cost-competitive with electrolysis using electricity supplied by nuclear power or from fossil-fuels in conjunction with carbon capture and storage. Solar electricity production and storage using either batteries or PEC hydrogen technologies are currently an order of magnitude greater in cost than electricity prices with no clear advantage to either battery or hydrogen storage as of yet. Significant advances in PEC technology performance and system cost reductions are necessary to enable cost-effective PEC-derived solar hydrogen for use in scalable grid-storage applications as well as for use as a chemical feedstock precursor to CO2 -neutral high energy-density transportation fuels. Hence such applications are an opportunity for foundational research to contribute to the development of disruptive approaches to solar fuels generation systems that can offer higher performance at much lower cost than is provided by current embodiments of solar fuels generators. Efforts to directly reduce CO2 photoelectrochemically or electrochemically could potentially produce products with higher value than hydrogen, but many, as yet unmet, challenges include catalytic efficiency and selectivity, and CO 2 mass transport rates and feedstock cost. Major breakthroughs are required to obtain viable economic costs for solar hydrogen production, but the barriers to achieve cost-competitiveness with existing large-scale thermochemical processes for CO2 reduction are even greater.« less

Authors:
 [1];  [2];  [1];  [3]
  1. California Inst. of Technology (CalTech), Pasadena, CA (United States). Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP); California Inst. of Technology (CalTech), Pasadena, CA (United States).Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering
  2. California Inst. of Technology (CalTech), Pasadena, CA (United States). Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP); California Inst. of Technology (CalTech), Pasadena, CA (United States). Thomas J. Watson Lab. of Applied Physics
  3. Univ. of Queensland, Brisbane (Australia). Dow Centre for Sustainable Engineering Innovation, Dept. of Chemical Engineering
Publication Date:
Research Org.:
California Institute of Technology (CalTech), Pasadena, CA (United States)
Sponsoring Org.:
USDOE Office of Science (SC), Basic Energy Sciences (BES)
OSTI Identifier:
1436115
Grant/Contract Number:  
SC0004993
Resource Type:
Journal Article: Accepted Manuscript
Journal Name:
Energy & Environmental Science
Additional Journal Information:
Journal Volume: 9; Journal Issue: 7; Journal ID: ISSN 1754-5692
Publisher:
Royal Society of Chemistry
Country of Publication:
United States
Language:
English
Subject:
14 SOLAR ENERGY

Citation Formats

Shaner, Matthew R., Atwater, Harry A., Lewis, Nathan S., and McFarland, Eric W. A comparative technoeconomic analysis of renewable hydrogen production using solar energy. United States: N. p., 2016. Web. doi:10.1039/c5ee02573g.
Shaner, Matthew R., Atwater, Harry A., Lewis, Nathan S., & McFarland, Eric W. A comparative technoeconomic analysis of renewable hydrogen production using solar energy. United States. https://doi.org/10.1039/c5ee02573g
Shaner, Matthew R., Atwater, Harry A., Lewis, Nathan S., and McFarland, Eric W. 2016. "A comparative technoeconomic analysis of renewable hydrogen production using solar energy". United States. https://doi.org/10.1039/c5ee02573g. https://www.osti.gov/servlets/purl/1436115.
@article{osti_1436115,
title = {A comparative technoeconomic analysis of renewable hydrogen production using solar energy},
author = {Shaner, Matthew R. and Atwater, Harry A. and Lewis, Nathan S. and McFarland, Eric W.},
abstractNote = {A technoeconomic analysis of photoelectrochemical (PEC) and photovoltaic-electrolytic (PV-E) solar-hydrogen production of 10 000 kg H2 day-1 (3.65 kilotons per year) was performed to assess the economics of each technology, and to provide a basis for comparison between these technologies as well as within the broader energy landscape. Two PEC systems, differentiated primarily by the extent of solar concentration (unconcentrated and 10× concentrated) and two PV-E systems, differentiated by the degree of grid connectivity (unconnected and grid supplemented), were analyzed. In each case, a base-case system that used established designs and materials was compared to prospective systems that might be envisioned and developed in the future with the goal of achieving substantially lower overall system costs. With identical overall plant efficiencies of 9.8%, the unconcentrated PEC and non-grid connected PV-E system base-case capital expenses for the rated capacity of 3.65 kilotons H 2 per year were 205 dollars MM (293 dollars per m 2 of solar collection area (m S -2 ), 14.7 W H2,P-1) and 260 dollars MM ($371 mS-2, 18.8 dollars WH2,P -1 ), respectively. The untaxed, plant-gate levelized costs for the hydrogen product (LCH) were $11.4 kg -1 and 12.1 dollars kg -1 for the base-case PEC and PV-E systems, respectively. The 10× concentrated PEC base-case system capital cost was 160 dollars MM (428 dollars mS -2, 11.5 dollars WH2,P -1) and for an efficiency of 20% the LCH was 9.2 kg -1 . Likewise, the grid supplemented base-case PV-E system capital cost was 66 dollars MM (441 dollars m S -2, 11.5 dollars W H2,P -1 ), and with solar-to-hydrogen and grid electrolysis system efficiencies of 9.8% and 61%, respectively, the LCH was 6.1 dollars kg-1 . As a benchmark, a proton-exchange membrane (PEM) based grid-connected electrolysis system was analyzed. Assuming a system efficiency of 61% and a grid electricity cost of $0.07 kWh -1 , the LCH was $5.5 kg -1 . A sensitivity analysis indicated that, relative to the base-case, increases in the system efficiency could effect the greatest cost reductions for all systems, due to the areal dependencies of many of the components. The balance-of-systems (BoS) costs were the largest factor in differentiating the PEC and PV-E systems. No single or combination of technical advancements based on currently demonstrated technology can provide sufficient cost reductions to allow solar hydrogen to directly compete on a levelized cost basis with hydrogen produced from fossil energy. Specifically, a cost of CO 2 greater than ~$800 dollars (ton CO2 ) -1 was estimated to be necessary for base-case PEC hydrogen to reach price parity with hydrogen derived from steam reforming of methane priced at $12 GJ -1 ($1.39 (kg H 2 ) -1). A comparison with low CO 2 and CO2 -neutral energy sources indicated that base-case PEC hydrogen is not currently cost-competitive with electrolysis using electricity supplied by nuclear power or from fossil-fuels in conjunction with carbon capture and storage. Solar electricity production and storage using either batteries or PEC hydrogen technologies are currently an order of magnitude greater in cost than electricity prices with no clear advantage to either battery or hydrogen storage as of yet. Significant advances in PEC technology performance and system cost reductions are necessary to enable cost-effective PEC-derived solar hydrogen for use in scalable grid-storage applications as well as for use as a chemical feedstock precursor to CO2 -neutral high energy-density transportation fuels. Hence such applications are an opportunity for foundational research to contribute to the development of disruptive approaches to solar fuels generation systems that can offer higher performance at much lower cost than is provided by current embodiments of solar fuels generators. Efforts to directly reduce CO2 photoelectrochemically or electrochemically could potentially produce products with higher value than hydrogen, but many, as yet unmet, challenges include catalytic efficiency and selectivity, and CO 2 mass transport rates and feedstock cost. Major breakthroughs are required to obtain viable economic costs for solar hydrogen production, but the barriers to achieve cost-competitiveness with existing large-scale thermochemical processes for CO2 reduction are even greater.},
doi = {10.1039/c5ee02573g},
url = {https://www.osti.gov/biblio/1436115}, journal = {Energy & Environmental Science},
issn = {1754-5692},
number = 7,
volume = 9,
place = {United States},
year = {2016},
month = {5}
}

Journal Article:
Free Publicly Available Full Text
Publisher's Version of Record

Citation Metrics:
Cited by: 119 works
Citation information provided by
Web of Science

Figures / Tables:

Fig. 1 Fig. 1: (a) Block diagram depicting the power flow through a PEC plant. The cell specifics for the Type 3 and 4 systems are shown in the insets. (b) Block diagram of the power flow through photovoltaic electrolysis (PV-E), grid assisted photovoltaic electrolysis (GSPV-E) and grid electrolysis plants.

Save / Share:

Works referenced in this record:

Benchmarking Hydrogen Evolving Reaction and Oxygen Evolving Reaction Electrocatalysts for Solar Water Splitting Devices
journal, March 2015


Electrochemical Photolysis of Water at a Semiconductor Electrode
journal, July 1972


A taxonomy for solar fuels generators
journal, January 2015


Operating experience with a photovoltaic-hydrogen energy system
journal, May 1997


Life-cycle net energy assessment of large-scale hydrogen production via photoelectrochemical water splitting
journal, January 2014


GIS-based scenario calculations for a nationwide German hydrogen pipeline infrastructure
journal, April 2013


Design and cost considerations for practical solar-hydrogen generators
journal, January 2014


Direct coupling of a solar-hydrogen system in Mexico
journal, September 2007


Ten-percent solar-to-fuel conversion with nonprecious materials
journal, September 2014


Operational constraints and strategies for systems to effect the sustainable, solar-driven reduction of atmospheric CO 2
journal, January 2015


Photoelectrochemistry of core–shell tandem junction n–p + -Si/n-WO 3 microwire array photoelectrodes
journal, January 2014


A monolithic device for solar water splitting based on series interconnected thin film absorbers reaching over 10% solar-to-hydrogen efficiency
journal, January 2013


Atomic layer-deposited tunnel oxide stabilizes silicon photoanodes for water oxidation
journal, June 2011


Flexible, Polymer-Supported, Si Wire Array Photoelectrodes
journal, June 2010


Amorphous TiO2 coatings stabilize Si, GaAs, and GaP photoanodes for efficient water oxidation
journal, May 2014


Technical and economic feasibility of centralized facilities for solar hydrogen production via photocatalysis and photoelectrochemistry
journal, January 2013


Modeling, simulation, and design criteria for photoelectrochemical water-splitting systems
journal, January 2012


An analysis of the optimal band gaps of light absorbers in integrated tandem photoelectrochemical water-splitting systems
journal, January 2013


Solar hydrogen production by water splitting with a conversion efficiency of 18%
journal, October 2007


Material requirements for membrane separators in a water-splitting photoelectrochemical cell
journal, January 2014


Efficient Solar Water Splitting, Exemplified by RuO 2 -Catalyzed AlGaAs/Si Photoelectrolysis
journal, September 2000


Ten years of operational experience with a hydrogen-based renewable energy supply system
journal, December 2003


Limiting and realizable efficiencies of solar photolysis of water
journal, August 1985


What is the Minimum EROI that a Sustainable Society Must Have?
journal, January 2009


New insights into the electrochemical reduction of carbon dioxide on metallic copper surfaces
journal, January 2012


Economic and energetic analysis of capturing CO2 from ambient air
journal, December 2011


A comprehensive review on PEM water electrolysis
journal, April 2013


Using TiO 2 as a Conductive Protective Layer for Photocathodic H 2 Evolution
journal, January 2013


Works referencing / citing this record:

Carbon-Based Photocathode Materials for Solar Hydrogen Production
journal, September 2018


Elaborately Modified BiVO 4 Photoanodes for Solar Water Splitting
journal, December 2018


Design and Fabrication of a Precious Metal-Free Tandem Core-Shell p + n Si/W-Doped BiVO 4 Photoanode for Unassisted Water Splitting
journal, August 2017


Solar-to-Hydrogen Energy Conversion Based on Water Splitting
journal, October 2017


Organic Semiconductor Based Devices for Solar Water Splitting
journal, October 2018


Recent Advances and Emerging Trends in Photo-Electrochemical Solar Energy Conversion
journal, November 2018


Decoupling Hydrogen and Oxygen Production in Acidic Water Electrolysis Using a Polytriphenylamine-Based Battery Electrode
journal, February 2018


Decoupling Hydrogen and Oxygen Production in Acidic Water Electrolysis Using a Polytriphenylamine-Based Battery Electrode
journal, February 2018


Investigation of the Support Effect in Atomically Dispersed Pt on WO 3− x for Utilization of Pt in the Hydrogen Evolution Reaction
journal, November 2019


Photoelectrochemical CO 2 Reduction with a Rhenium Organometallic Redox Mediator at Semiconductor/Aqueous Liquid Junction Interfaces
journal, November 2019


In-situ Platinum Plasmon Resonance Effect Prompt Titanium Dioxide Nanocube Photocatalytic Hydrogen Evolution
journal, January 2019


Boosting the Performance of BiVO 4 Prepared through Alkaline Electrodeposition with an Amorphous Fe Co‐Catalyst
journal, September 2018


A Combined Theory‐Experiment Analysis of the Surface Species in Lithium‐Mediated NH 3 Electrosynthesis
journal, January 2020


The Art of Splitting Water: Storing Energy in a Readily Available and Convenient Form: The Art of Splitting Water: Storing Energy in a Readily Available and Convenient Form
journal, March 2019


Geothermal energy use in hydrogen production: A review
journal, August 2019


Hydrogen from solar energy, a clean energy carrier from a sustainable source of energy
journal, May 2020


Performance assessment of a solar tower‐based multigeneration system with thermal energy storage
journal, June 2019


Photoelectrochemical water splitting in separate oxygen and hydrogen cells
journal, March 2017


pH effects on the electrochemical reduction of CO(2) towards C2 products on stepped copper
journal, January 2019


A thermally synergistic photo-electrochemical hydrogen generator operating under concentrated solar irradiation
journal, April 2019


Frontiers of water oxidation: the quest for true catalysts
journal, January 2017


O–O bond formation in ruthenium-catalyzed water oxidation: single-site nucleophilic attack vs. O–O radical coupling
journal, January 2017


Evaluating particle-suspension reactor designs for Z-scheme solar water splitting via transport and kinetic modeling
journal, January 2018


Pathways to electrochemical solar-hydrogen technologies
journal, January 2018


Vapor-fed solar hydrogen production exceeding 15% efficiency using earth abundant catalysts and anion exchange membrane
journal, January 2017


Hydrogen-enriched natural gas as a domestic fuel: an analysis based on flash-back and blow-off limits for domestic natural gas appliances within the UK
journal, January 2018


Solar energy conversion, storage, and release using an integrated solar-driven redox flow battery
journal, January 2017


In situ investigation on ultrafast oxygen evolution reactions of water splitting in proton exchange membrane electrolyzer cells
journal, January 2017


Rational design of a neutral pH functional and stable organic photocathode
journal, January 2018


Single-crystal silicon-based electrodes for unbiased solar water splitting: current status and prospects
journal, January 2019


Toward practical solar hydrogen production – an artificial photosynthetic leaf-to-farm challenge
journal, January 2019


Strategies for enhancing the photocurrent, photovoltage, and stability of photoelectrodes for photoelectrochemical water splitting
journal, January 2019


Remote ion-pair interactions in Fe-porphyrin-based molecular catalysts for the hydrogen evolution reaction
journal, January 2019


A comparative technoeconomic analysis of pathways for commercial electrochemical CO 2 reduction to liquid products
journal, January 2018


The future of solar fuels: when could they become competitive?
journal, January 2018


Elucidating the performance and unexpected stability of partially coated water-splitting silicon photoanodes
journal, January 2018


Enhancing the activity of oxygen-evolution and chlorine-evolution electrocatalysts by atomic layer deposition of TiO 2
journal, January 2019


On the energetic efficiency of producing polyoxymethylene dimethyl ethers from CO 2 using electrical energy
journal, January 2019


Functional mapping reveals mechanistic clusters for OER catalysis across (Cu–Mn–Ta–Co–Sn–Fe)O x composition and pH space
journal, January 2019


Why the thin film form of a photocatalyst is better than the particulate form for direct solar-to-hydrogen conversion: a poor man's approach
journal, January 2019


Cooperative silanetriolate-carboxylate sensitiser anchoring for outstanding stability and improved performance of dye-sensitised photoelectrodes
journal, January 2018


Computation and assessment of solar electrolyzer field performance: comparing coupling strategies
journal, January 2019


Plant-to-planet analysis of CO 2 -based methanol processes
journal, January 2019


Solar hydrogen production: a bottom-up analysis of different photovoltaic–electrolysis pathways
journal, January 2019


>10% solar-to-hydrogen efficiency unassisted water splitting on ALD-protected silicon heterojunction solar cells
journal, January 2019


A perspective on practical solar to carbon monoxide production devices with economic evaluation
journal, January 2020


3D-Printed electrodes for membraneless water electrolysis
journal, January 2020


Practical challenges in the development of photoelectrochemical solar fuels production
journal, January 2020


Metal selenide photocatalysts for visible-light-driven Z -scheme pure water splitting
journal, January 2019


Superwetting and mechanically robust MnO 2 nanowire–reduced graphene oxide monolithic aerogels for efficient solar vapor generation
journal, January 2019


Rapid advances in antimony triselenide photocathodes for solar hydrogen generation
journal, January 2019


Long-term stability studies of a semiconductor photoelectrode in three-electrode configuration
journal, January 2019


Engineering Cu surfaces for the electrocatalytic conversion of CO 2 : Controlling selectivity toward oxygenates and hydrocarbons
journal, May 2017


What would it take for renewably powered electrosynthesis to displace petrochemical processes?
journal, April 2019


Editors' Choice—Solar-Electrochemical Platforms for Sodium Hypochlorite Generation in Developing Countries
journal, January 2019


High Speed Video Investigation of Bubble Dynamics and Current Density Distributions in Membraneless Electrolyzers
journal, January 2019


Hydrogen Supply Chains for Mobility—Environmental and Economic Assessment
journal, May 2018


A General Concept for Solar Water-Splitting Monolithic Photoelectrochemical Cells Based on Earth-Abundant Materials and a Low-Cost Photovoltaic Panel
journal, August 2018


Photocatalysis: Basic Principles, Diverse Forms of Implementations and Emerging Scientific Opportunities
journal, August 2017


Oxysulfide photocatalyst for visible-light-driven overall water splitting
journal, June 2019


Net-zero emissions energy systems
journal, June 2018


Silicon based photoelectrodes for photoelectrochemical water splitting
journal, January 2019


Improving the Efficiency of PEM Electrolyzers through Membrane-Specific Pressure Optimization
journal, February 2020