Comprehensive process and environmental impact analysis of integrated DBD plasma steam methane reforming

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Department of Chemical Engineering


Utilization of electricity generated from renewable sources to obtain hydrogen, H2, is of critical importance to decrease the overall carbon footprint. In this work, integration of a dielectric discharge barrier (DBD) plasma reactor to convert low calorific value gas, such as landfill gas or coal mine gas into hydrogen, into the existing steam methane reforming (SMR) technology was evaluated using process design considerations. In particular, a DBD-enhanced catalytic SMR reactor was modeled to operate at near atmospheric pressure and 500 °C sequentially with the conventional reformer to obtain ~ 65 kmol/hr H2 for distributed production. This allowed decreasing the size of the conventional reformer albeit at the increased overall electricity consumption. Calculated process economics showed that only at an electricity cost of less than $0.004/kWh does the hybrid DBD plasma process derived H2 price become competitive with that of the conventional SMR. A Life Cycle Assessment framework was used to compare environmental impacts from the conventional SMR, hybrid DBD SMR and hybrid DBD SMR utilizing only onshore wind-derived electricity. Larger environmental impacts in the plasma reformer were obtained due to the use of electricity for the plasma reforming operation, which was modeled as coming from the typical U.S. grid mix. Utilizing only 100% wind-derived electricity provided certain environmental benefits, except for the ecotoxicity impact where the wind power scenario modeled here only reduced ecotoxicity impacts associated with electricity by 30%.

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