(129e) Assessing the Feasibility of Conceptual Electrocatalytic Processes through Inverse Techno-Economic Modeling

Orella, M., Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Román-Leshkov, Y., Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Brushett, F., Massachusetts Institute of Technology
As the price of renewable electricity approaches that of fossil electricity, there are emerging opportunities to harness this low-cost, sustainable, electrical energy to decouple carbon emissions from economic development. Electrochemical processes are poised to play a pivotal role in the evolving energy ecosystem as the efficient interconversion of electrical and chemical energy can enable the deployment of sustainable technologies that support decarbonization of the electric grid, power the automotive fleet, and offer new opportunities for chemical manufacturing. With several notable exceptions, electrosynthesis is not yet widely employed in the industrial sector, but such processes have the potential to reduce plant cost through modularity and process intensification, improved safety through ambient operations, and increased process flexibility. Indeed, electrochemical processing may allow new molecular transformations, unlocking previously inaccessible or unimaginable synthetic routes. However, as compared to thermochemical processes, our understanding of the catalyst science and reaction engineering of electrochemical transformations is limited to a narrow set of reactions, largely influenced by historical interest in fuel cells and batteries. As such, while there is growing interest, there are few demonstrations of technological feasibility and these concepts remain nascent.

As economic considerations are a primary driver to technology adoption, we have developed a generalized techno-economic model that connect system performance and cost targets to the physical, electrochemical, and cost parameters of constituent components with a broader goal of quantitatively assessing a diverse set of conceptual electrochemical systems. By integrating this model into early-stage fundamental and applied research efforts, we articulate performance benchmarks for multiple components, highlight gaps in knowledge, and, ultimately inspire innovative application-informed approaches. In this presentation, I will describe model formulation and applications using three different case studies. First, to establish the accuracy of such a model, I will evaluate water electrolysis as a means of hydrogen production comparing our results to established U.S. Department of Energy models. Second, I will assess the feasibility of electrochemically upgrading biomass-derived small molecules for use in fuel or chemical manufacturing. Third and finally, I will illustrate that while, depending the catalyst choice and reaction conditions, carbon dioxide electroreduction can yield many scientifically-interesting products, only a subset are viable technology options. Such inverse techno-economic models can guide research investigations to address the most important limitations in proposed technology platforms and to provide credible pathways to cost-effective deployment.