Technical and Economic Feasibility of Centralized Facilities for Solar Hydrogen Production via Photocatalysis and Photoelectrochemistry

Blaise A. Pinaud, Jesse D. Benck, Linsey C. Seitz, Arnold J. Forman, Zhebo Chen, Todd G. Deutsch, Brian D. James, Kevin N. Baum, George N. Baum, Shane Ardo, Heli Wang, Eric Miller, Thomas F. Jaramillo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1119 Scopus Citations


Photoelectrochemical water splitting is a promising route for the renewable production of hydrogen fuel. This work presents the results of a technical and economic feasibility analysis conducted for four hypothetical, centralized, large-scale hydrogen production plants based on this technology. The four reactor types considered were a single bed particle suspension system, a dual bed particle suspension system, a fixed panel array, and a tracking concentrator array. The current performance of semiconductor absorbers and electrocatalysts were considered to compute reasonable solar-to-hydrogen conversion efficiencies for each of the four systems. The U.S. Department of Energy H2A model was employed to calculate the levelized cost of hydrogen output at the plant gate at 300 psi for a 10 tonne per day production scale. All capital expenditures and operating costs for the reactors and auxiliaries (compressors, control systems, etc.) were considered. The final cost varied from $1.60-$10.40 per kg H2 with the particle bed systems having lower costs than the panel-based systems. However, safety concerns due to the cogeneration of O 2 and H2 in a single bed system and long molecular transport lengths in the dual bed system lead to greater uncertainty in their operation. A sensitivity analysis revealed that improvement in the solar-to-hydrogen efficiency of the panel-based systems could substantially drive down their costs. A key finding is that the production costs are consistent with the Department of Energy's targeted threshold cost of $2.00-$4.00 per kg H2 for dispensed hydrogen, demonstrating that photoelectrochemical water splitting could be a viable route for hydrogen production in the future if material performance targets can be met.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1983-2002
Number of pages20
JournalEnergy and Environmental Science
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2013

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-5900-60332


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