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Hydrogen or batteries for grid storage? A net energy analysis

http://dx.doi.org/10.1039/C4EE04041D
[font face=Serif][font size=5]Hydrogen or batteries for grid storage? A net energy analysis[/font]

Matthew A. Pellow,*a Christopher J. M. Emmott,bc Charles J. Barnhartd and Sally M. Bensonaef

Energy Environ. Sci., 2015,8, 1938-1952

DOI: 10.1039/C4EE04041D
Received 22 Dec 2014, Accepted 08 Apr 2015
First published online 08 Apr 2015
This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported Licence.


[font size=3]Energy storage is a promising approach to address the challenge of intermittent generation from renewables on the electric grid. In this work, we evaluate energy storage with a regenerative hydrogen fuel cell (RHFC) using net energy analysis. We examine the most widely installed RHFC configuration, containing an alkaline water electrolyzer and a PEM fuel cell. To compare RHFC's to other storage technologies, we use two energy return ratios: the electrical energy stored on invested (ESOIe) ratio (the ratio of electrical energy returned by the device over its lifetime to the electrical-equivalent energy required to build the device) and the overall energy efficiency (the ratio of electrical energy returned by the device over its lifetime to total lifetime electrical-equivalent energy input into the system). In our reference scenario, the RHFC system has an ESOIe ratio of 59, more favorable than the best battery technology available today (Li-ion, ESOIe = 35). (In the reference scenario RHFC, the alkaline electrolyzer is 70% efficient and has a stack lifetime of 100 000 h; the PEM fuel cell is 47% efficient and has a stack lifetime of 10 000 h; and the round-trip efficiency is 30%.) The ESOIe ratio of storage in hydrogen exceeds that of batteries because of the low energy cost of the materials required to store compressed hydrogen, and the high energy cost of the materials required to store electric charge in a battery. However, the low round-trip efficiency of a RHFC energy storage system results in very high energy costs during operation, and a much lower overall energy efficiency than lithium ion batteries (0.30 for RHFC, vs. 0.83 for lithium ion batteries). RHFC's represent an attractive investment of manufacturing energy to provide storage. On the other hand, their round-trip efficiency must improve dramatically before they can offer the same overall energy efficiency as batteries, which have round-trip efficiencies of 7590%. One application of energy storage that illustrates the tradeoff between these different aspects of energy performance is capturing overgeneration (spilled power) for later use during times of peak output from renewables. We quantify the relative energetic benefit of adding different types of energy storage to a renewable generating facility using |EROI|grid. Even with 30% round-trip efficiency, RHFC storage achieves the same |EROI|grid as batteries when storing overgeneration from wind turbines, because its high ESOIe ratio and the high EROI of wind generation offset the low round-trip efficiency.

[hr][font size=4]Broader context[/font]

The rapid increase in electricity generation from wind and solar is a promising step toward decarbonizing the electricity sector. Because wind and solar generation are highly intermittent, energy storage will likely be key to their continued expansion. A wide variety of technology options are available for electric energy storage. One is a regenerative hydrogen fuel cell (RHFC) system that converts electricity to hydrogen by water electrolysis, stores the hydrogen, and later provides it to a fuel cell to generate electric power. RHFC systems are already operating in several dozen locations. In this net energy analysis, we compare the quantity of energy dispatched from the system over its lifetime to the energy required to build the device. We find that, for the same quantity of manufacturing energy input, hydrogen storage provides more energy dispatched from storage than does a typical lithium ion battery over the lifetime of the facility. On the other hand, energy storage in hydrogen has a much lower round-trip efficiency than batteries, resulting in significant energy losses during operation. Even at its present-day round-trip efficiency of 30%, however, it can provide the same overall energy benefit as batteries when storing overgeneration from wind farms.
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[font size=4]5 Conclusion[/font]

Energy storage in hydrogen is a technically feasible option for grid-scale storage, and is already in pilot demonstrations. Because of its low round-trip efficiency, it may be overlooked in spite of its potential advantages, such as high energy density and low rate of self-discharge. In order to examine the potential benefits and drawbacks of hydrogen as a grid-scale energy storage technology, we apply net energy analysis to a representative hypothetical regenerative hydrogen fuel cell (RHFC) system. We introduce and apply a method to determine the energy stored on invested (ESOIe) ratio of a reference case RHFC system.

We find that the reference case RHFC system has a higher ESOIe ratio than lithium ion battery storage. This indicates that the hydrogen storage system makes more efficient use of manufacturing energy inputs to provide energy storage. One reason for this is that the steel used to fabricate a compressed hydrogen storage cylinder is less energetically costly, per unit of stored energy, than the materials that store electric charge in a battery (electrode paste, electrolyte, and separator). However, lithium ion batteries remain energetically preferable when considering the operation of the system, as well as its manufacture, due to their higher round-trip efficiency (90%). This is reflected in the overall energy efficiencies of the two storage technologies: the overall energy efficiency of a typical lithium ion battery system is 0.83, compared to 0.30 for the reference case RHFC system. This highlights that in spite of its relatively efficient use of manufacturing energy inputs, the round-trip efficiency of a RHFC system must increase before it can provide the same total energy benefit as other storage technologies. Higher RHFC round-trip efficiency relies on improved electrolyzer and fuel cell performance.

When storing overgeneration from wind turbines, energy storage in hydrogen provides an energy return similar to batteries, in spite of its lower round-trip efficiency. The aggregate EROI of wind generation augmented with RHFC storage is equal to that of the same wind facility augmented with lithium ion battery storage, when up to 25% of the electricity output passes through the storage system. For spilled power from solar photovoltaics, storage in hydrogen provides an EROI that is slightly higher than curtailment, though lower than batteries. As with other storage technologies, energy storage in hydrogen coupled to wind generation provides an overall EROI that is well above the EROI of fossil electricity generation.

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