Comparative prospective life cycle assessment of emerging technology combinations for hydrogen production in Germany by 2045

Linked Sessions:

Poster Number:  11 

Main Presenter:    Mélanie Apitzsch-Delavault 

Co-Authors:   Maike-Katharina Senk                                               

According to the International Energy Agency’s net zero emissions plan, worldwide hydrogen demand will reach 520 million tons by 2050 [1]. Currently, the reference process is steam methane reforming from natural gas, which emits approximately 10 kg CO2eq/kg H2 [2]. Emerging technologies have tremendous potential for efficiency improvement through learning rate,
scaling up, and compete to reduce the carbon footprint from hydrogen production.
The goal of our study was to compare the environmental impact and quantify the ecological savings potential of promising emerging technology combinations with those of the reference process by 2045 in Germany. We assessed the environmental performance of various technology
combinations by conducting a comparative prospective life cycle assessment from 2025 to 2045.
We used the Activity Browser software and the EF3.0 method to carry out the prospective life cycle assessment.
We evaluated the following technology combinations: (1) natural gas pyrolysis; (2) biological methane reforming; (3) a combination of fossil and biological reforming with carbon capture technology; (4) electrolysis; and (5) hydrogen derivates, that is, green ammonia and liquid organic hydrogen carriers.
Our results indicate that steam reforming from biological methane with a carbon footprint of 3.5 kg CO2eq/kg H2 currently has a lower environmental impact than the reference process; however, the availability from biological methane remains limited. Considering the current German electricity mix, electrolysis technologies will have a higher environmental impact than
the reference process up to 2027. Electrolysis technologies will also benefit significantly from the decarbonization of grid electricity over time. The carbon footprint from electrolysis will then decrease and reach the threshold of 10 kg CO2eq/kg H2 by 2028. Furthermore, the combination of biological methane reforming with carbon capture technology will have the lowest impact of
all the technologies, resulting in net negative emissions up to 2030. By 2040, green ammonia is expected to have a lower environmental impact than electrolysis technologies and could be a competitive alternative.
Our overview of the ecological development of emerging technologies provides a technology guideline for political and business decision-makers to decarbonize hydrogen production by 2045. In future research, the ecological and economic results will be compiled and integrated into an energy system model to support holistic planning.

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