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Site-Dependent Environmental Impacts of Industrial Hydrogen Production by Alkaline Water Electrolysis


Industrial hydrogen production via alkaline water electrolysis (AEL) is a mature hydrogen production method. One argument in favor of AEL when supplied with renewable energy is its environmental superiority against conventional fossil-based hydrogen production. However, today electricity from the national grid is widely utilized for industrial applications of AEL. Also, the ban on asbestos membranes led to a change in performance patterns, making a detailed assessment necessary. This study presents a comparative Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) using the GaBi software (version 6.115, thinkstep, Leinfelden-Echterdingen, Germany), revealing inventory data and environmental impacts for industrial hydrogen production by latest AELs (6 MW, Zirfon membranes) in three different countries (Austria, Germany and Spain) with corresponding grid mixes. The results confirm the dependence of most environmental effects from the operation phase and specifically the site-dependent electricity mix. Construction of system components and the replacement of cell stacks make a minor contribution. At present, considering the three countries, AEL can be operated in the most environmentally friendly fashion in Austria. Concerning the construction of AEL plants the materials nickel and polytetrafluoroethylene in particular, used for cell manufacturing, revealed significant contributions to the environmental burden.

Funding source: The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) for the Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Joint Technology Initiative under Grant Agreement No. 278824.
Related subjects: Production & Supply Chain
Countries: Germany

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