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A General Techno-Economic Model for Evaluating Emerging Electrolytic Processes

revised on 04.11.2019 and posted on 12.11.2019 by Michael Orella, Steven M. Brown, McLain Leonard, Yuriy Román-Leshkov, Fikile Brushett

Increasing societal concern about carbon emissions and the concomitant emergence of inexpensive renewable resources provide growing impetus for the electrification of the chemical industry. While there have been notable recent advances in the science and engineering of electrolytic processes, there are comparatively few engineering economic studies that outline the technical specifications needed to approach feasibility. Here we introduce an open-source techno-economic framework to connect system performance and price goals to the constituent materials property sets with a goal of quantifying the economic potential of existing and conceptual electrolytic processes. To validate the outputs and demonstrate the versatility of this toolkit, we explore three contemporary electrolyses of varying technology readiness levels. Specifically, we first benchmark our model results against the Department of Energy hydrogen analysis model, then evaluate the impact of mass transport and catalyst performance on the electrochemical reduction of carbon dioxide, and chart a pathway to low-cost electrolytic production of phenol from guaiacol. As this model is based on generalized mass balances and electrochemical equations common to a number of electrochemical processes, it serves as an adaptable toolkit for researchers to evaluate new chemistries and reactor configurations as well as to back-translate system targets to interdependent materials-level property requirements.


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Massachusetts Institute of Technology


United States of America

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Declaration of Conflict of Interest

No conflict of interest