Methodology for Assessing the Sustainability of Hydrogen Production from Solid Fuels

Nirmal V. Gnanapragasam, Bale V. Reddy and Marc A. Rosen of the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Ontario Institute of Technology have published a new paper titled „A Methodology for Assessing the Sustainability of Hydrogen Production from Solid Fuels.“  This paper introduces a methodology for for assessing the sustainability of hydrogen production using solid fuels is introduced, in which three sustainability dimensions (ecological, sociological and technological) are considered along with ten indicators for each dimension.  The results of their analysis suggest that qualitative sustainability indicators can be reasonably defined based on evaluations of system feasibility, and that adequate flexibility and comprehensiveness is provided through the use of ten indicators for each of the dimensions for every process or element involved in hydrogen production using solid fuels. Also, the assessment index values suggest that biomasses have better sustainability than coals, and that it may be advantageous to use coals in combination with biomass to increase their ecological and social sustainability. The sustainability assessment methodology can be made increasingly quantitative, and is likely extendable to other energy systems, but additional research and development is needed to lead to a more fully developed approach.  The introduction to this worthwhile paper reads:

Concerns regarding such factors as energy, economics and environmental impact have increased interest in sustainable development, particularly the sustainability of energy systems. As a consequence, governments at local, regional, national and intra-national levels have introduced measures and sought agreements to enhance the sustainability of society’s energy activities. Such initiatives are often based on non-rigorous assessments, and thus are sometimes challenged. Structured methodologies for assessing energy sustainability are needed and would make it more straightforward to justify sustainability measures and to obtain support for them.

The importance of energy systems sustainability can be seen by considering climate change. Concerns about the ramifications of climate change have added momentum to the initiatives being considered by governments and industries to switch to non-carbon-based energy sources. Some propose for a hydrogen energy system in which hydrogen and electricity are the primary energy carriers and facilitate the use of non-fossil-based energy resources. Many feel that the shift to alternative energy sources would also help to improve national economies by creating new industries and employment opportunities, advance policies to facilitate new investments and business models and create funds for development through large government stimulus packages. Hydrogen energy systems could also lead to an increase in the contribution of coal and biomass to local energy markets.

When using hydrogen produced from coal or biomass, CO2 emissions can be addressed, making the capture and storage of CO2 more economic. Considering these disparate advantages and disadvantages separately in assessing sustainability is complex, highlighting the need for structured and sound sustainability assessment methodologies.

This article focuses on the need to improve the sustainability of the energy system, and introduces and illustrates a qualitative (and partially quantitative) methodology for evaluating the sustainability of solid fuels in energy systems. The methodology is not fully developed, but rather is suggested as a possible framework which is being developed. In the methodology, indicators are applied to each solid fuel for a variety of factors. The methodology is intended to allow the assessment and comparison of the sustainability of energy systems involving hydrogen production from solid fuels, as well as to facilitate sustainability enhancements. The methodology is illustrated here by comparing two solid fuels for hydrogen production: coal and biomass. The methodology can be made more quantitative with sufficient data.

Read the full paper here in PDF format.

Citation: Gnanapragasam, N.V.;Reddy, B.V.;Rosen, M.A. A Methodology for Assessing the Sustainability of Hydrogen Production from Solid Fuels. Sustainability 2010, 2, 1472-1491.

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