Green Production of Microelectronics-Grade Hydrogen and Research-Grade Oxygen; The Challenges to Equitable EV Implementation

Song, Brian, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Anderson, Eric, EN-Chem Engr Dept, University of Virginia
Earle, Joshua, Engineering and Society, University of Virginia

Sustainability is the common theme across the technical and STS portions of this research. The technical report details the design of a green hydrogen plant that produces hydrogen and oxygen gas through a carbon-free process while the STS report discusses the impact of EVs and low-income communities. The research presented in the final reports did not deviate much from the proposed ideas in the Prospectus, however, there are a few important changes that should be mentioned. First, the final oxygen product is research-grade oxygen rather than medical-grade oxygen because it was valued more per kg. Second, the scope of the STS paper was reduced to focus primarily on the social impacts of EVs instead of public transit, hydrogen cars, and EVs. Public transit is still discussed briefly but not as in depth as originally intended.

The technical report describes the design of the plant which produces microelectronic grade green hydrogen, and research-grade oxygen as a coproduct. The design incorporates Aspen Plus v14 modeling, adsorption equilibrium data, and a life cycle economic analysis of the plant. The motivation for this plant is to provide a clean and sustainable way to produce hydrogen gas for the microelectronics industry to reduce carbon footprint and environmental impacts of the hydrogen production industry, currently dominated by gray production processes.

The process begins with the purification of river water to create a suitable inlet for high-purity green hydrogen production. The water is first run through a coarse filter to remove large debris present in the river. Then, the water is put through a rapid sand filter, to remove smaller suspended particles, a UV disinfection tube, to kill and present bacteria and algae, and a Granulated Activated Carbon (GAC) filter, to remove organic contaminants. This water is further purified by a reverse osmosis (RO) unit and then supplied to a heat exchanger to increase the temperature before the PEM electrolyzer.

The electrolyzer splits the water into hydrogen (H2) and oxygen (O2) gas, which are then sent to downstream purification processes. The gasses first encounter, in separate processes, a condenser to remove the majority of water vapor picked up in the electrolyzer. Then, the gasses are sent to a pressure swing adsorption (PSA) column, to remove further impurities. The hydrogen and oxygen separation processes use 5A and 13X zeolite, respectively. After sending the gasses through a multistage compression and bottling process, the hydrogen gas is ready to be sold to the microelectronics industry and the oxygen gas to the research industry, both at 99.999% purity.

The plant is designed to operate for 8,000 hours a year, producing 15,334,000 kg of hydrogen per year and 1,864,000 kg of oxygen per year. This gives a yearly hydrogen revenue of $394,413,880.66 and an oxygen revenue of $45,109,684.35. The plant’s costs include a $34 million equipment cost, $202 million capital cost, $400,000 material cost, $4.5 million yearly utility cost, and a total yearly operating cost of $15 million. After conducting a 20 year economic analysis on the lifetime of the plant, using a 10-year straight line depreciation, the internal rate of return (IRR) was found to be 64%, and expected revenue at 6.6 billion dollars. Beyond the expected profitability, because the IRR value is greater than the estimated hurdle discount rate of 18%, we can conclude that this process is economically feasible. Therefore, we believe that this project should be executed because it is entirely carbon-neutral, beneficial for the environment, and ultimately a financial success.

The STS report describes the challenges to EV implementation and the potential for EVs to disproportionately hurt low-income groups. The report utilizes Actor-Network Theory (ANT), which describes any phenomena in terms of the relationships between the human and non-human actors that create that phenomena. The result of these negotiations between actors is the translation of the phenomena or the deformation of an idea from its original meaning, which can have positive, negative, or neutral impacts on society.

Section I begins by illustrating how EVs interact, compete, and coexist with other forms of transportation in the 1900s. Ultimately, the gasoline car took over the automotive industry in the 1900s, and the rest of Section I discusses the translation of gasoline cars within Langdon Winner’s concept “artifacts have politics.” This states that artifacts are not neutral objects but inherently embody political values, assumptions, and ideologies – they influence power relations and how people reinforce or challenge societal norms. The discussion of Robert Moses’ hostile architecture and the suburban sprawl reveal the negative impact gasoline car implementation had on low-income groups. Section I provides the necessary context for the discussion of EV implementation in Section II.

Section II begins by introducing Geroski’s technology diffusion model to highlight the urgency for change and necessity for ethical solutions and strategies. It draws parallels between the uptake of EVs and the uptake of gasoline cars and discusses the resulting consequences or potential consequences. The discussion then shifts towards how the economic viability of EVs, infrastructure challenges, and environmental challenges impact low-income communities and how these challenges can be mitigated.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
Green hydrogen, Electric Vehicles
All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
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