Linking Life Cycle and Integrated Assessment Modeling to Evaluate Technologies in an Evolving System Context: A Power-to-Hydrogen Case Study for the United States

Patrick Lamers, Tapajyoti Ghosh, Shubhankar Upasani, Romain Sacchi, Vassilis Daioglou

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus Citations

Abstract

Carbon-neutral hydrogen (H2) can reduce emissions from hard-to-electrify sectors and contribute to a net-zero greenhouse gas economy by 2050. Power-to-hydrogen (PtH2) technologies based on clean electricity can provide such H2, yet their carbon intensities alone do not provide sufficient basis to judge their potential contribution to a sustainable and just energy transition. Introducing a prospective life cycle assessment framework to decipher the non-linear relationships between future technology and energy system dynamics over time, we showcase its relevance to inform research, development, demonstration, and deployment by comparing two PtH2 technologies to steam methane reforming (SMR) across a series of environmental and resource-use metrics. We find that the system transitions in the power, cement, steel, and fuel sectors move impacts for both PtH2 technologies to equal or lower levels by 2100 compared to 2020 per kg of H2 except for metal depletion. The decarbonization of the United States power sector by 2035 allows PtH2 to reach parity with SMR at 10 kg of CO2e/kg H2 between 2030 and 2050. Updated H2 radiative forcing and leakage levels only marginally affect these results. Biomass carbon removal and storage power technologies enable carbon-negative H2 after 2040 at about −15 kg of CO2e/kg H2. Still, both PtH2 processes exhibit higher impacts across most other metrics, some of which are worsened by the decarbonization of the power sector. Observed increases in metal depletion and eco- and human toxicity levels can be reduced via PtH2 energy and material use efficiency improvements, but the power sector decarbonization routes also warrant further review and cradle-to-grave assessments to show tradeoffs from a systems perspective.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)2464-2473
Number of pages10
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Volume57
Issue number6
DOIs
StatePublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Authors. Published by American Chemical Society.

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-6A20-82832

Keywords

  • decarbonization
  • hydrogen
  • integrated assessment modeling
  • LiAISON
  • open-source code
  • power-to-X
  • prospective life cycle assessment

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