Green Production of Microelectronics-Grade Hydrogen and Research-Grade Oxygen; Factors Disproportionately Impacting the Lower Social Classes as a result of the Transition to Electric Vehicles

Sweeney, Daniel, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Anderson, Eric, EN-Chem Engr Dept PV-International Studies, University of Virginia
Earle, Joshua, Engineering and Society PV-Institutional Research and Analytics EN-Engineering and Society PV-Summer & Spec Acad Progs, University of Virginia

The technical portion of my project described the design of a plant that 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.
To begin, the purification of river water takes place to create a suitable inlet for high-purity green hydrogen production. The water is run through a coarse filter to remove large debris, a rapid sand filter to remove smaller suspended particles, a UV disinfection tube to kill any bacteria or algae, and a granulated activated carbon filter to remove the organic contaminants. The water is then sent through reverse osmosis and fed to the PEM electrolyzer.
The electrolyzer splits the water into hydrogen and oxygen gas which are then purified. In separate but similar processes, the gasses are compressed and condensed to remove the water vapor that is present in the respective streams. 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 1,864,000 kg of hydrogen per year and 15,334,000 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 yearly 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. Additionally, 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.
For the STS portion of my project, the factors that disproportionately impact the lower social classes in the transition to electric vehicles was analyzed. The main factors that were considered were the public policies related to the financial incentives received when purhcasing these vehicles, the public policies related to the allocation of resources provided to advance electric vehicles infrastructure in America, and the environmental impacts of the disproportionate distribution of these vehicles. The current public policies in place provide financial incentives to the wealthier individuals due to the costs of purchasing electric vehicles which only exacerbate the inequalities associated with the transition in this industry. The current public policies in place have led to similarly disproportionate environmental impacts as the lower class communities suffer from worse air quality and more noise pollution. These have severe health impacts as they directly decrease life expectancy and quality of life, so it is crucial that these issues are addressed as quickly as possible.
After analyzing these issues, it was determined that revisions should be made to the public policies in order for there to be incentives to purchase these electric vehicles on secondary markets, making it more affordable for these lower income communities to adopt the technology while still receiving similar benefits that the upper class receives. Subsidies could be introduced to encourage more equitable distribution along with spending more tax dollars on the development of infrastructure in these communities by installing charging stations.
To help combat the environmental effects of this unequitable and disproportionate distribution of electric vehicels, more immediate actions need to be taken: afforestation, reforestation, and improved waste management are all quick ways that some of the issues could be mitigated while waiting for the government to introduce these changes on a wider scale. The planting of trees would help the environment by sequestering more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, absorbing more rainwater, binding the soil to reduce erosion, and reducing noise pollution. Additionally, planting trees in communities has been found to lead to decreased stress levels, lower respiratory and heart disease rates, and greater overall life expectancy. . While these are some of the ways that improvements can be made, there are numerous more ways to make improvements, so it is important for everybody to be involved in order to make this transition more equitable.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
Green hydrogen, electric vehicles, Proton exchange membrane electrolysis

School of Engineering and Applied Science
Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering
Technical Advisor: Eric Anderson
STS Advisor: Joshua Earle
Technical Team Members: Amara Pettit, Brian Song, Abhinav Sanjay, Amish Madhav

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