Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Water consumption for steam methane reforming hydrogen plants in Edmonton, Canada
by Shah, Jignesh, M.Sc.S.E., Villanova University, 2013, 218; 10116994
Abstract (Summary)

Traditional engineering and financial assessments are limited not only to consideration of currently internalized costs, but also often lack consideration of new or current externalities during the life of the new system. The goal of this thesis is to provide a methodology that integrates sustainability assessment with the traditional assessments, thereby allowing the assessment and optimization of the total overall costs. The proposed method is applied for the steam methane reforming (SMR) plants operated by Air Products in Edmonton, Canada where the boiler feed water for hydrogen manufacturing is produced using the polished effluent from the local municipal wastewater treatment plant. The softening of the feed water to Reverse Osmosis (RO) system is proposed (after evaluating the several options) to improve the recovery for the current RO system from 75% to 95%. The overall costs were estimated for comparison of the current and proposed systems.

The production of hydrogen via SMR highlights the complexities of the sustainability assessment. While hydrogen may be considered a renewable transportation fuel, depending on whether the fossil natural gas can be replaced with renewable biogas or via electrolysis of water using renewable energy, it is reliant on the availability of water. However, water is a scarce resource that is also essential for basic human survival and ecological needs. As the population of the world increases, alternative water sources need to be explored, which may require more energy in the processing of such water to potable grade.

The results show that the proposed RO feed softening via Ion Exchange (IX) can improve RO recovery up to 95%. The financial assessments based on literature prices and cost factors show that the current operating cost can be reduced up to ~20% by improving RO recovery to 95% with ~75% probability for cost reduction at 95% recovery. When the capital costs are accounted for, NPV-based analyses show that for 95% recovery more than 20% IRR (if spare vessels are available for refurbishment) could be achieved.

Environmental assessments (Life Cycle Assessment method using SimaPro v7.3 following ISO 14040-44 standards) show that 1.12 x 10-3 ReCiPe Endpoints impact for current RO operation at 75% recovery can be reduced by ~8% when 95% RO recovery is achieved via the proposed system. Due to the need for increased NaCl salt for regeneration of resins in the proposed system, the environmental impacts increased for metal depletion and ionizing radiation impact categories, unlike the other impact categories. The GHG emissions could be reduced by ~10% (after accounting for 10%-30% probability) for 95% RO recovery with the reduction from the reduced consumption of inputs. Similarly, the life cycle water depletion impacts can be reduced by ~10% (after accounting for 30%-65% reduction probability) from the current 1.75kg water depletion per kg of BFW produced. Water Footprint Assessment (WFA) as per the Ridoutt & Pfister method shows that when accounted for local water stress, during the worst month, the blue water footprint increases from 1.75kg/kg BFW to 63.9kg/kg BFW, in addition to ~0.08kg/kg BFW greywater footprint.

The social assessment shows mixed results with lower employment, employee development, corporate philanthropy, environmental "protect" spend and R&D spend due to reduced overall consumptions for the 95% recovery option. The other social impact categories were improved for 95% recovery. The overall cost (estimated as the sum of the internally normalized social costs) were 3.0 units with up to 35% reduction potential.

The results of the case study show that IX feed softening has potential to not only reduce the environmental and social costs, but also meet the financial constraints. Also, this highlights that an integrated sustainability assessment method that evaluates and combines all three aspects of sustainability - environment, social and economic - could be developed. The proposed method as presented needs further development. Among other things, the lack of availability of robust social inventory database significantly hinders the development and adoption such integrated methods. The application of the method to additional case studies would be a good next step.

This exercise has highlighted that the value and benefits of overall cost estimates are beyond those of policy making by the regulatory agencies. Sustainability minded companies could benefit from having environmental and social goals along with the financial targets as they understand the risks from inadequate performances in any of these aspects. However, these goals are typically on a gate-to-gate basis and independent of each other; thereby, creating the potential for shifting burdens in the value chain and not obtaining the full benefits of risk mitigation. The assessment using the overall cost approach at life cycle basis is essential for industry in not only risk mitigation, but also opportunity identification at an early stage.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Singh, Pritpal, Lorenz, William
School: Villanova University
Department: Engineering
School Location: United States -- Pennsylvania
Source: MAI 55/05M(E), Masters Abstracts International
Subjects: Alternative Energy, Water Resource Management, Sustainability
Keywords: Integrated sustainability assessment, Ion exchange water softening, Life cycle assessment, Reverse osmosis, Social life cycle assessment, Water footprint assessment
Publication Number: 10116994
ISBN: 9781339783970
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