Methanol and hydrogen production: energy and cost analysis

Methanol and hydrogen produced from biomass are promising carbon neutral fuels. Both are well suited for use in Fuel Cell Vehicles (FCVs) which are expected to reach high efficiencies, about a factor 2-3 better than current Internal Combustion Engine Vehicles (ICEVs). In addition they are quiet and clean, emitting none of the air pollutants SOx, NOx, VOS or dust. When methanol and hydrogen are derived from sustainably grown biomass, the overall energy chain can be greenhouse gas neutral.

Technical and economic prospects of the future production of methanol and hydrogen from biomass have been evaluated. A technology review, including promising future components, was made, resulting in a set of promising conversion concepts. Flowsheeting models were made to analyse the technical performance in ASPEN PLUS.

Results were used for economic evaluations. Overall energy efficiencies are around 55% HHV for methanol and around 60% for hydrogen production.

400 MWth input systems produce biofuels at 9 – 12 US$/GJ, this is above the current gasoline production price of 4 – 6 US$/GJ. This cost price is largely dictated by the capital investments. The outcomes for the various system types are rather comparable, although concepts focusing on optimised fuel production with little or no electricity co-production perform somewhat better. Long term cost reductions reside in cheaper biomass, technological learning, and application of large scales up to 2000 MWth. This could bring the production costs of biofuels in the 5 – 7 US$/GJ range. Biomass- derived methanol and hydrogen are likely to become competitive fuels tomorrow.

Author: Cardenas Barrañon, Diana Carolina

Source: Luleå University of Technology

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