Routes towards low-cost renewable hydrogen production

  • Christopher Ross Dixon

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    The transition from declining conventional fossil fuel energy to renewables is one of the most significant challenges facing humanity. Hydrogen is anticipated as the key future energy vector. This is sought to bring more value and utility to renewable energy resources, and eventually providing an energy storage medium to replace fossil fuels such as for automotive applications. This thesis contains an investigation of hydrogen production through renewable low-cost and low-carbon processes. Literature reviews of conventional and renewable H2 production methods and storage (compression, liquefaction, adsorption materials and hydrides) are presented in detail (in appendices). Particular attention has been given to energy efficiency, cost and practicality of processes. Electrolysis of water is investigated in detail. Wind turbines and solar photovoltaics are reviewed and physically investigated as key renewable electrical energy sources for renewable H2 production via electrolysis. Conventional and novel electrical power control is investigated and tested to support low-cost wind/solar-powered electrolysis. Biological H2 production from mixed-acid fermentation of Escherichia coli is practically investigated from the energy-physics perspective and considered as one possible route to permit renewable H2 production in the long-term. Photocatalytic materials are also investigated as additional future routes for renewable H2 production; in this work they are investigated using nanoscale materials processing and surface analysis techniques. This thesis has an energy-focussed, applied and practical theme, achieving a broad investigation of the topics herein. Experimental investigations were chosen based upon relevance, practicality, concurrent research, availability of resources, and for application of novel nanoscale materials processing. Power control elements for wind-powered H2 production have for example been optimised by complete investigation of supply/load characteristics rather than adopting the more conventional power electrical/electronic approach. Ultimately the work here aims to demonstrate (at small-scale) that renewable H2 production can be achieved at relatively low cost, e.g. by wind-powered electrolysis, inferring that pathways can be established within existing means to produce much larger quantities of renewable H2 economically.
    Date of Award2015
    Original languageEnglish
    SponsorsEngineering and Physical Sciences Research Council
    SupervisorDavid Rodley (Supervisor) & Mervyn Rose (Supervisor)


    • Renewable energy
    • Hydrogen

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