DOE Technical Targets for Photobiological Hydrogen Production

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These tables list the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) technical targets for photobiological hydrogen production. The tables are organized into separate sections for photolytic biological and photosynthetic bacterial hydrogen production systems.

More information about targets can be found in the Hydrogen Production section of the Fuel Cell Technologies Office's Multi-Year Research, Development, and Demonstration Plan.

Photolytic Biological Hydrogen Production

Technical Targets: Photolytic Biological Hydrogen Productiona

Characteristics Units 2011 Status 2015 Targetc 2020 Targetd Ultimate Targete
Hydrogen costb $/kg NA NA 9.20 2.00
Reactor costf $/m2 NA NA 14 11
Light utilization efficiency (% incident solar energy that is
converted into photochemical energy)g
% 25h 28 30 54
Duration of continuous H2 production at full sunlight intensityi Time units 2 minj 30 min 4 h 8 h
Solar to H2 (STH) energy conversion ratiok % NA 2 5 17
1-sun hydrogen production ratel kg/s per m2 NA 1.6E-7 4.1E-7 1.4E-6

a The targets in this table are for research tracking with the Ultimate Target values corresponding to market competitiveness. Targets are based on an initial analysis utilizing the H2A Central Production Model 3.0 with standard H2A economic parameters.
b Hydrogen cost represents the complete system hydrogen production cost for purified, 300 psi compressed gas. Projections assume photolytic production of hydrogen gas by genetically engineered organisms (algal or bacterial) suspended in a water solution under solar illumination, modeled as algae, with an O2-tolerant hydrogenase, grown in large, raceway-type, shallow bed reactors that are covered by a thin, optically transparent film, and provided with nutrients, CO2, and sunlight. The evolved gas will be collected,
purified to 99.999+ hydrogen purity by pressure swing adsorption (PSA), and compressed to 300 psi for hydrogen pipeline transport. Plant capacity is 50,000 kg H2/day for all years. All targets are expressed in 2007 dollars. Cost calculations are documented in the H2A v3 Future Case Study for Photolytic Biological Production of Hydrogen. Further analysis assumptions may be found in "Technoeconomic Boundary Analysis of Biological Pathways to Hydrogen Production," Directed Technologies, Inc., Final Report to U.S. Department of Energy, 31 August 2009.
c The 2015 target is based on analysis of the best technologies projected to be available in 2015 and assumes integration into a single, non-hybrid organism. Specifically, the 2015 target is based on a model of a Chlamydomonas reinhardtii strain with an O2-tolerance hydrogenase system and a reduced chlorophyll antennae light harvesting complex (LHC), in which all the improvements listed in the table have been integrated.
d For 2020, all assumptions of the 2015 target system apply (such as reactor system design and organism type) except the organism is assumed to be further improved in the target parameters indicated in the table.
e For the 2015 and 2020 targets, the organism modeled is assumed to be an algal strain with a native photosynthesis system (i.e., with Photosystems I and II). For the Ultimate Target, previous assumptions (such as reactor system design) apply, but the modeled organism is both optimized and has a genetically modified hybrid photosynthetic system combining the native algal Photosystem II with a bacterial Reaction Center, achieving greater hydrogen production rates by extending the light spectrum that can be collected and improving the efficiency of other conversion steps. Fundamental genetic engineering advances are required to reach the hybrid organism’s ultimate target efficiency values. If the hybrid organism was not successfully genetically engineered, performance would be limited to a light utilization efficiency of 34%, an STH ratio of 9.8%, and a cost of $2.6/kg H2.
f Installed cost per square meter of organism bed reactor equipment includes the containment structure, film covering, and any reactor interior flow control equipment. It does not include cost of complementary equipment such as compressors, PSA, Control Room, etc. Square meters are defined as the solar capture area. Future designs for the reactors will need to address safety measures to deal with the co-production of hydrogen and oxygen (e.g., replacing PSA systems with Temperature Swing Apparatus systems), which may increase costs. Due to the early stage of development, photobioreactor designs and the required organismal characteristics will likely undergo modifications before widespread commercial use to address issues such as temperature, salinity, and pH control.
g The light utilization efficiency is the conversion efficiency of incident solar energy into photochemically available energy and is the product of two values: the light collection efficiency and the photon use efficiency at full sunlight intensity. The first value, light collection efficiency, is the fraction of solar incident light that is within the photosynthetically active radiation (PAR) wavelength band of the organism. For green algae, the light collection efficiency is estimated to be 45% ("Light and photosynthesis in aquatic ecosystems," Kirk, Cambridge University Press, 1994), and is considered fixed for the 2015 and 2020 targets; the hybrid organism modeled for the ultimate target is estimated to have a light collection efficiency of up to 64% ("Integrated biological hydrogen production," Melis and Melnicki, International Journal of Hydrogen Energy, September 2006). The second value, photon use efficiency, is the efficiency of converting the absorbed photon energy into chemical energy through photosynthesis at full sunlight intensity (2,500 micromol photons per square meter per second). At low-light conditions (i.e., with no light saturation), the average photon use efficiency for algae is 85% ("Absolute absorption cross sections for photosystem II and the minimum quantum requirement for photosynthesis in Chlorella vulgaris." Ley and Mauzerall, Biochim. Biophys. Acta 1982). Experimentally, photon use efficiency is determined by measuring the rate of photosynthesis (via oxygen evolution) per photon at different light intensities and comparing the rates at full sunlight and at sub-saturating light levels, with the maximum value set at the 85% efficiency level.
h "Maximizing Light Utilization Efficiency and Hydrogen Production in Microalgal Cultures," Melis, 2008 Annual Progress Report for DOE's Hydrogen Program.
i For purposes of conversion efficiencies and duration reporting, full sunlight (2,500 micromol photons per square meter per second) conditions are assumed. Since in actual practice light intensity varies diurnally, only 8 hours of continuous duration is needed for a practical system. The duration values assume a system where the enzyme is regenerated at night with respiration scavenging oxygen.
j Brand et al., 1989, Biotechnol. Bioeng.
k STH energy conversion ratio is defined as the energy of the net hydrogen produced (LHV) divided by net full-spectrum solar energy consumed. For systems utilizing solar energy input only, the consumed energy is calculated based on the incident irradiance over the total area of the solar collector. For hybrid systems, all additional non-solar energy sources (e.g., electricity) must be included as equivalent solar energy inputs added to the denominator of the ratio. For photolytic biological hydrogen production, this can be thought of as the product of three components: E0*E1*E2. The maximum potential value is calculated by determining the highest possible conversion efficiencies at three steps: E0, the percent of solar energy (at sea level) that is absorbed by the organism; E1, the percent of absorbed energy that is utilized for charge separation by the photosystems; and E2, the energy for charge separation that is utilized for water splitting. The E2 value is reduced by 20% to account for the fact that some photon energy will go to other processes, such as cellular maintenance, rather than hydrogen production. The hydrogen cost calculation takes into consideration reductions due to reactor light transmittance (10% loss) and the loss of production over a full production day due to durations less than 8 h. Cost calculations are documented in the H2A v3 Future Case Study for Photolytic Biological Production of Hydrogen.
l The hydrogen production rate in kg/s per total area of solar collection under full-spectrum 1-sun incident irradiance (1,000 W/m2). Under ideal conditions, STH can be related to this rate as follows: STH = H2 Production Rate (kg/s per m2) * 1.23E8 (J/kg) / 1.00E3 (W/m2). Measurements of the 1-sun hydrogen production rate can provide an invaluable diagnostic tool in the evaluation of loss mechanisms contributing to the STH ratio.

Photosynthetic Bacterial Hydrogen Production

Technical Targets: Photosynthetic Bacterial Hydrogen Productiona

Characteristics Units 2011 Status 2015 2020 Target
Efficiency of incident solar light energy to H2 (E0*E1*E2)c from organic acids % NA 3 4.5
Molar yield of carbon conversion to H2 (depends on nature of organic substrate) E3d % of maximum NA 50 65
Duration of continuous photoproductione Time NA 30 days 3 months

a The targets in this table are for research tracking. The final targets for this technology are costs that are market competitive. This table will be updated in a future version of this plan to incorporate hydrogen cost target and current technology assumptions.
b Technology readiness targets (beyond 2020) are 5.5% efficiency of incident solar light energy to H2 (E0*E1*E2) from organic acids, 80% of maximum molar yield of carbon conversion to H2 (depends on nature of organic substrate) E3, and 6 months duration of continuous photoproduction. See Figure 3.1.2 in the Hydrogen Production section of the MYRD&D Plan for a schematic representation of conversion steps and associated efficiencies.
c E0 reflects the light collection efficiency of the bacteria in the photoreactor and the fact that only a fraction of incident solar light is photosynthetically active (theoretical maximum is 68%, from 400 to 1,000 nm). E1*E2 is equivalent to the efficiency of conversion of absorbed light to primary charge separation then to adenosine-5'-triphosphate; both are required for hydrogen production via the nitrogenase enzyme. E0*E1*E2 represents the efficiency of conversion of incident solar light to hydrogen through the nitrogenase enzyme (theoretical maximum is 10% for 4-5 electrons). This efficiency does not take into account the energy used to generate the carbon substrate.
d E3 represents the molar yield of H2 per carbon substrate (the theoretical maximum is 7 moles per mole carbon in the substrate, based on the average yield of acetate and butyrate).
e Duration reflects continuous production in the light, not necessarily at peak efficiencies. It includes short periods during which ammonia is re-added to maintain the system active.