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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The role of biomass in California's hydrogen economy


This paper presents the results of a model of hydrogen production from waste biomass in California. We develop a profit-maximizing model of a biomass hydrogen industry from field to vehicle tank. This model is used to estimate the economic potential for hydrogen production from two waste biomass resources in Northern California—wheat straw and rice straw—taking into account the on the ground geographic dimensions of both biomass supply and hydrogen demand. The systems analysis approach allows for explicit consideration of the interactions between feedstock collection, hydrogen production, and hydrogen distribution in finding the optimal system design. This case study approach provides insight into both the real-world potential and the real-world cost of producing hydrogen from waste biomass. Additional context is provided through the estimation of California's total waste biomass hydrogen potential. We find that enough biomass is available from waste sources to provide up to 40% of the current California passenger car fuel demand as hydrogen. Optimized supply chains result in delivered hydrogen costing between $3/kg and $5.50/kg with one-tenth of the well-to-wheels greenhouse gas emissions of conventional gasoline-fueled vehicles.

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