Energy Sustainability Analysis (ESA) of Energy-Producing Processes: A Case Study on Distributed H2 Production


In the sustainability context, the performance of energy-producing technologies, using different energy sources, needs to be scored and compared. The selective criterion of a higher level of useful energy to feed an ever-increasing demand of energy to satisfy a wide range of endo- and exosomatic human needs seems adequate. In fact, surplus energy is able to cover energy services only after compensating for the energy expenses incurred to build and to run the technology itself. This paper proposes an energy sustainability analysis (ESA) methodology based on the internal and external energy use of a given technology, considering the entire energy trajectory from energy sources to useful energy. ESA analysis is conducted at two levels: (i) short-term, by the use of the energy sustainability index (ESI), which is the first step to establish whether the energy produced is able to cover the direct energy expenses needed to run the technology and (ii) long-term, by which all the indirect energy-quotas are considered, i.e., all the additional energy requirements of the technology, including the energy amortization quota necessary for the replacement of the technology at the end of its operative life. The long-term level of analysis is conducted by the evaluation of two indicators: the energy return per unit of energy invested (EROI) over the operative life and the energy payback-time (EPT), as the minimum lapse at which all energy expenditures for the production of materials and their construction can be repaid to society. The ESA methodology has been applied to the case study of H2 production at small-scale (10–15 kWH2) comparing three different technologies: (i) steam-methane reforming (SMR), (ii) solar-powered water electrolysis (SPWE), and (iii) two-stage anaerobic digestion (TSAD) in order to score the technologies from an energy sustainability perspective.

Related subjects: Production & Supply Chain
Countries: Italy

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