Research Article  Open Access
Solar Thermochemical Hydrogen Production via Terbium Oxide Based Redox Reactions
Abstract
The computational thermodynamic modeling of the terbium oxide based twostep solar thermochemical water splitting (TbWS) cycle is reported. The 1st step of the TbWS cycle involves thermal reduction of TbO_{2} into Tb and O_{2}, whereas the 2nd step corresponds to the production of H_{2} through Tb oxidation by water splitting reaction. Equilibrium compositions associated with the thermal reduction and water splitting steps were determined via HSC simulations. Influence of oxygen partial pressure in the inert gas on thermal reduction of TbO_{2} and effect of water splitting temperature () on Gibbs free energy related to the H_{2} production step were examined in detail. The cycle () and solartofuel energy conversion () efficiency of the TbWS cycle were determined by performing the secondlaw thermodynamic analysis. Results obtained indicate that and increase with the decrease in oxygen partial pressure in the inert flushing gas and thermal reduction temperature (). It was also realized that the recuperation of the heat released by the water splitting reactor and quench unit further enhances the solar reactor efficiency. At K, by applying 60% heat recuperation, maximum of 39.0% and of 47.1% for the TbWS cycle can be attained.
1. Introduction
H_{2} is considered as one of the most promising future energy sources as it is characterized by a very high energy density (143 MJ/kg) and environmentally clean utilization. H_{2} can be produced by gasification and reforming of fossil fuels [1–3], pyrolysis and reforming of biomass [4–7], ethanol and methanol decomposition [8–11], and so forth. Literature survey indicates that, in recent years, the researchers are attracted more towards production of H_{2} from water by using solar energy as the heat source.
Solar radiation is an essentially inexhaustible energy source that delivers about 100,000 TW to the earth. Harvesting the solar radiation and converting it effectively into renewable H_{2} fuel from H_{2}O provide a promising path for a future sustainable energy economy. Solar H_{2} production via metal oxide (MO) based thermochemical H_{2}O splitting reaction is considered as one of the capable new technologies for fulfillment of future energy requirement. In comparison to the high temperature direct thermolysis of H_{2}O, the MO based thermochemical cycle is advantageous as (a) this cycle needs lower temperatures as compared to thermolysis, (b) it has no explosive mixture formation as the production of H_{2} and O_{2} can be carried out in two different steps, and (c) it is environmentally and thermodynamically more feasible compared to thermolysis.
Production of solar H_{2} via MO based thermochemical reactions is a twostep process. In the first step, the MO is reduced into a lower valence MO or metal with the help of solar energy. The reduced MO is further reoxidized in the second step via H_{2}O splitting reaction. Several MO based redox systems were theoretically and experimentally studied towards thermochemical water splitting reaction which includes ZnO/Zn cycle [12–15], Fe_{3}O_{4}/FeO cycle [16–20], SnO_{2}/SnO cycle [21–23], ferrite cycle [24–30], ceria cycle [31–36], and perovskite cycle [37–41]. Previous investigations indicate that these cycles are promising towards solar water splitting reaction but possess certain imitations also. The ZnO/Zn and SnO_{2}/SnO cycles are volatile in nature and hence material loss during multiple cycles is inevitable. On the other hand, Fe_{3}O_{4}/FeO, ferrite, ceria, and perovskite cycles depend upon the nonstoichiometry of the redox materials and hence the complete reduction and oxidation were not observed which resulted in the fact that smaller amounts of H_{2} production were observed. Due to these reasons, investigations are underway to explore new thermochemical cycles for the production of H_{2} via water splitting reaction.
In this study, computational thermodynamic modeling of a new terbium oxide based twostep solar thermochemical water splitting (TbWS) cycle was performed to determine its thermodynamic efficiency by using HSC Chemistry software and databases (HSC 7.1). Thermodynamic equilibrium composition of the solar thermal reduction of terbium oxide (step 1) and water splitting reaction (step 2) were determined. Effect of oxygen partial pressure in the inert flushing gas used inside the solar reactor during thermal reduction step on thermodynamic efficiency of the process was explored in detail. Furthermore, the effect of water splitting temperature () on Gibbs free energy associated with the oxidation of Tb (via water splitting reaction) was also explored. In addition to the thermodynamic equilibrium analysis, the solar reactor thermodynamic modeling was also carried out. Absorption efficiency of the solar reactor, solar energy input required to run the TbWS cycle, heat losses due to radiation, rate of heat rejected by the quench unit and water splitting reactor, TbWS cycle efficiency, and solartofuel energy conversion efficiency were estimated. Typical redox reactions involved in the TbWS cycle are presented in Figure 1.
The redox reactions involved in the TbWS cycle are as follows:Thermodynamic data associated with , , , , and as the reactive species were taken from HSC and the analysis was performed by assuming continuous operation of the solar reactor with inlet molar flow rate of equal to 1 mol/sec. The boiling and fusion points for are 1629 and 3396 K, respectively. Similar to other lanthanides, Tb possesses low toxicity. According to Patnaik [42], the crust global abundance of Tb is estimated to be 1.2 mg/kg.
2. Equilibrium Thermodynamic Analysis
Previous investigations associated with the production of solar fuels via MO based thermochemical reactions indicate that the heat energy that is thermal reduction temperature () required to achieve complete reduction of MOs can be decreased if ultrahigh purity inert flushing gas with lower oxygen partial pressures in the range of 10^{−3} to 10^{−8} atm is used during the reduction step inside the solar reactor [43, 44]. The effect of oxygen partial pressure in the inert flushing gas on thermal reduction of was examined in this study and the results are reported in Figure 2. The reported findings indicate that, similar to the previous MO cycles, required for the thermal reduction of can be lowered due to the drop in the oxygen partial pressure in the inert flushing gas. For example, at oxygen partial pressure of 10^{−5} atm, required for the complete dissociation of is equal to 2780 K. can be decreased by 80, 260, and 500 K if the oxygen partial pressure in the inert flushing gas is reduced to 10^{−6}, 10^{−7}, and 10^{−8} atm, respectively.
In addition to , the effect of oxygen partial pressure in the inert flushing gas on equilibrium compositions associated with the thermal reduction of TbO_{2} was also investigated. HSC simulations reported in Figure 3 indicate that the slope of the decrease in the equilibrium concentration of TbO_{2} and increase in the equilibrium concentration of is shifted significantly towards the lower due to the decrease in the oxygen partial pressure in the inert flushing gas. The possible reason behind this shift is the reduction in the entropy of the product gases due to the drop in the oxygen partial pressure in the inert flushing gas used inside the solar reactor.
As per the HSC simulations, formation of Tb_{2}O_{3} is an intermediate step in the thermal reduction of TbO_{2} into and . In addition, it was observed that the Tb formation is achieved only after decomposition of Tb_{2}O_{3}. Hence, as we are dealing with the final products, there is no need to consider Tb_{2}O_{3} in the thermodynamic analysis. Therefore, Tb_{2}O_{3} is not included in this study.
Figure 4 shows the variation in the Gibbs free energy related to the water splitting reaction as a function of . The Gibbs free energy change plot indicates that the hydrogen production via water splitting reaction and oxidation of Tb is feasible below 5400 K (pressure = 1 atm). It was also observed that decreases by 434.5 kJ/mol due to the drop in from 5400 to 300 K.
3. TbWS Solar Reactor Thermodynamic Modeling
Solar reactor operating the TbWS cycle was thermodynamically modeled by using the principles of the second law of thermodynamics. Figure 5 shows the process flow configuration of the TbWS cycle which includes a solar reactor, a quench unit, a water splitter, and an ideal H_{2}/O_{2} fuel cell. Like the previous studies, for the solar reactor thermodynamic modeling, several assumptions were made such as the following [20]:(a)The TbWS solar reactor considered as a perfectly insulated blackbody absorber with effective emissivity and absorptivity equal to 1 and negligible conductive convective heat losses.(b)Atmospheric H_{2} production and steady state conditions with negligible viscous losses and kinetics/potential energies.(c)Complete conversion of all the reactions associated with the TbWS cycle.(d)Products separating naturally without laying out any work.(e)Omission of heat exchanger required for recovering the sensible latent heat from the thermodynamic modeling.
Previously reported methodology was employed to perform the solar reactor modeling [20]. HSC Chemistry software and databases were used to get the thermodynamic properties of the reactive species and the calculations are normalized to the TbO_{2} molar flow rate (1 mol/sec) entering the solar reactor.
The solar reactor absorption efficiency (), which is defined as the net rate at which energy is being absorbed by the solar reactor divided by the solar energy input through the aperture, can be calculated as perwhere is directnormal solar irradiance (normal bean insolation) (W/m^{2}), is solar flux concentration ratio (ratio of the solar flux intensity achieved after concentration to the normal beam insolation, dimensionless number) (suns), is solar reactor temperature required for the thermal reduction of TbO_{2} (K), and is StefanBoltzmann constant which is equal to (W/m^{2}·K^{4}).
Figure 6 indicates a significant improvement in due to the reduction in and oxygen partial pressure in the inert flushing gas used inside the solar reactor decreases. At oxygen partial pressure in the inert flushing gas of 10^{−5} atm, the required is 2780 K and corresponding is 66.1%. As the oxygen partial pressure in the inert flushing gas is further lowered to 10^{−7} atm, can be decreased to 2520 K and can be increased up to 77.1%. As per the conditions employed in this study, the maximum that can be achieved is equal to 84.7% (oxygen partial pressure in the inert flushing gas is 10^{−8} atm and is 2280 K).
In addition to the oxygen partial pressure in the inert flushing gas and , also has a significant impact on . At oxygen partial pressure of 10^{−8} atm and of 2280 K, the lower values of (2000 suns) yield of 23.4%. As the value of increases up to 3000 to 5000 suns, can get enhanced up to 48.9% and 69.3%, respectively.
The net energy required to operate the TbWS solar reactor can be determined according to the following equations:The variation in with respect to the change in is presented in Figure 7. Presented results indicate that the required decreases with the drop in and oxygen partial pressure in the inert flushing gas. As is reduced from 2780 K (oxygen partial pressure in the inert flushing gas of 10^{−5} atm) to 2280 K (oxygen partial pressure in the inert flushing gas of 10^{−8} atm), is also lowered from 1543.0 kW to 1499.2 kW, respectively.
By using the calculated and , total amount of solar energy required for the operation of the TbWS cycle can be estimated asThe decrease in as a function of reduction in and oxygen partial pressure in the inert flushing gas is shown in Figure 7. 2333.2 kW of solar energy is required for the operation of TbWS cycle when the oxygen partial pressure in the inert flushing gas is equal to 10^{−5 }atm ( = 2780 K). is reduced to 1970.3 kW as the oxygen partial pressure in the inert flushing gas is lowered to 10^{−7 }atm ( = 2520 K). As per the modeling conditions employed in this study, the minimum (1770.5 kW) is possible at oxygen partial pressure in the inert flushing gas of 10^{−8 }atm ( = 2280 K). The reason behind this drop in is the elevation in due to the fall in from 2780 to 2280 K as the oxygen partial pressure in the inert flushing gas is reduced from 10^{−5} to 10^{−8} atm.
Radiation heat losses from the TbWS solar reactor are unavoidable as the operating temperatures are very high. These losses can be calculated asThe radiation heat losses associated with the TbWS cycle are presented in Figure 8(a). The plot shown indicates that, at = 2780 K, 790.2 kW of heat is lost from the solar reactor due to the reradiation. However, the radiation losses are decreased due to the lowering of . For instance, at = 2280 K, only 271.3 kW of reradiation losses is reported as per the thermodynamic modeling. This is again due to the fact that of the TbWS solar reactor is higher at lower .
(a)
(b)
Solar thermal reduction of TbO_{2} yields and . As the operating temperatures are very high, these compounds will try to recombine and reform the TbO_{2}. Therefore, it is highly essential to quench these compounds from to to avoid any recombination. During quenching, it is assumed that the chemical composition of the products remains unaltered. Due to quenching is cooled down to solid Tb and automatically gets separated from . Also, during quenching, latent and sensible heat will be lost to the surroundings from the quench unit which can be estimated asThe data reported in Figure 8(b) indicates that higher amount of heat is lost due to quenching (571.4 kW) when is 2780 K (oxygen partial pressure in the inert flushing gas is 10^{−5} atm). However, as is decreased to 2280 K due to the lowering of oxygen partial pressure in the inert flushing gas (10^{−8} atm), the heat lost is reduced by 43.8 kW.
Because of the irreversible chemical transformations and reradiation losses, the irreversibilities generated in the solar reactor and the quench unit can be determined asTable 1 lists the and values as a function of . From the reported numbers, it can be seen that, in case of both the TbWS solar reactor and quench unit, and values are maximum at higher and decrease with the reduction in . For instance, and can be lowered by 73.8% and 7.8% due to the drop in from 2780 to 2280 K.

H_{2} generation via water splitting reaction can be carried out at of 298 K by transferring the Tb obtained after the quench unit to the water splitting reactor. The water splitting is an exothermic reaction and hence the rate of heat rejected to the surroundings from the water splitting reactor is estimated as being equal to 399.8 kW according to Similarly, the irreversibility associated with the water splitting reaction is estimated (1.5 kW/K) by solving
To determine the maximum work that can be extracted from the H_{2} generated, an ideal H_{2}/O_{2} fuel cell with 100% work efficiency is added to the TbWS cycle. According to (14) and (15), it was observed that the theoretical work performed and heat energy released by the ideal fuel cell are equal to 473.9 and 97.3 kW:
The cycle () and solartofuel conversion () efficiency of the TbWS cycle can be defined as
Variation in and of the TbWS cycle as a function of is presented in Figure 9. The data reported indicate of 20.3% and of 24.5% at of 2780 K. However, at lower (2280 K), higher (26.8%) and (32.3%) can be achieved. of the TbWS cycle at of 2280 K is comparable to the efficiency values reported by previous investigators in case of ZnO/Zn cycle (29%), SnO_{2}/SnO cycle (29.8%), Fe_{3}O_{4}/FeO cycle (30%), and ceria cycle (20.2%).
and of TbWS cycle can be increased further by reutilizing the heat released by the water splitting reactor and quench unit. The amount of heat that can be recuperated is calculated asAs the heat released by the water splitting reactor and quench unit is recycled to run the TbWS cycle, the amount of solar energy required will be decreased asIn case of of 2280 K, Figure 10 shows that as the % heat recuperation increases, enhances whereas diminishes. At 10% heat recuperation, is equal to 1677.8 kW, which can be decreased to 1306.8 kW due to the increase in the heat recuperation up to 50%.
(a)
(b)
After applying the heat recuperation, and associated with the TbWS cycle can be calculated as
Table 2 reports and of TbWS cycle for different and by applying 10 to 50% heat recuperation. For the data listed, it can be seen that, due to the inclusion of heat recuperation, both and of TbWS cycle are significantly improved. For instance, by applying 20% heat recuperation at of 2280 K, and can be increased up to 23.5 and 28.4%. Likewise, at heat recuperation of 60% and of 2280 K, and can get enhanced up to 39.0 and 47.1%.

According to the previous studies, the heat recuperation is highly essential to achieve higher efficiency values in case of metal oxide based solar thermochemical cycles [12, 14, 15, 17, 18, 43, 44]. In the past, attempts were made to achieve the heat recuperation in a reallife solar reactor system. For instance, Diver et al. [45] developed a heat recovery system for iron oxide cycle by using a stack of counterrotating rings with the reactive material along the perimeter of each ring. In this system, the reactive surfaces act as extended heat transfer surfaces to achieve heat recuperation. Similarly, in case of TbWS cycle, heat exchangers can be coupled with the quench unit and water splitting reactor to recover the latent and sensible heat rejected by these units. Suitable heat exchanger fluid needs to be selected and the heat rejected by quench unit (due to the cooling of the thermal reduction products) and water splitting reactor (due to the exothermic splitting of water) can be stored in this fluid. This fluid can be recirculated throughout the process configuration shown in Figure 5 and the captured heat can be reutilized to run the TbWS cycle.
The solar reactor thermodynamic modeling performed in this paper is also verified by performing an energy balance and by evaluating the maximum achievable efficiency from the total available work and from the total solar power input. The energy balance performed in case of TbWS cycle (for all ) confirms thatAs an example, at of 2280 K, (22) indicates of 473.9 kW which is equal to determined by (14). Furthermore, the maximum cycle efficiency is also calculated according toFor all , it was observed that is equal to the Carnot heat engine operating between hot and cold temperature reservoirs:For instance, at of 2280 K and of 298 K, is 86.9% which is equal to = 86.9%.
4. Summary and Conclusions
Solar reactor efficiency analysis of the TbWS cycle for the production of H_{2} via water splitting reaction was conducted by using HSC Chemistry software and databases. Simulation results indicate that the heat energy required for the complete reduction of TbO_{2} into Tb and O_{2} can be reduced significantly from 2780 to 2280 K by decreasing the oxygen partial pressure in the inert flushing gas from 10^{−5} to 10^{−8} atm. According to the simulations, the water splitting reaction via Tb oxidation is feasible below 5400 K.
Exergy analysis shows that of the TbWS solar reactor can be increased by a factor of 1.28 due to the decrease in from 2780 to 2280 K. It was also observed that and can be reduced by 43.8 and 562.7 kW with the lowering of from 2780 to 2280 K. Similarly, due to the similar fall in , the quenching and reradiation heat losses can be dropped by 7.7 and 65.7%, respectively. The reason for the lower amounts of solar energy requirement and reduction in the heat loss via quenching and reradiation is due to the fact that of the TbWS solar reactor improves with the decrease in . of 23.5% and of 28.4% of TbWS cycle at of 2280 K are observed to be comparable to the previously investigated MO cycles. Furthermore, and can be further increased up to 39.0% and 47.1% by recuperating 60% of the heat rejected by the quench unit and water splitting reactor.
Nomenclature
:  Solar flux concentration ratio, suns 
:  Higher heating value 
:  Normal beam solar insolation, W/m^{2} 
MO:  Metal oxide 
:  Molar flow rate, mol/sec 
:  Heat rejected to the surrounding from quench unit, kW 
:  Heat rejected to the surrounding from ideal fuel cell, kW 
:  Heat rejected to the surrounding from water splitting reactor, kW 
:  Energy required for heating of TbO_{2}, kW 
:  Energy required for the thermal reduction of TbO_{2}, kW 
:  Net energy input required for the operation of TbWS cycle, kW 
:  Radiation heat loss from the solar reactor, kW 
:  Total amount of heat that can be recuperated, kW 
:  Solar energy input, kW 
:  Solar power input after heat recuperation, kW 
:  Thermal reduction temperature, K 
:  Water splitting temperature, K 
:  Work output of an ideal fuel cell, kW 
:  Solar absorption efficiency 
:  Cycle efficiency 
:  Solartofuel energy conversion efficiency 
:  Gibbs free energy change for water splitting reaction, kJ/mol 
:  Enthalpy change for water splitting reaction, kJ/mol 
:  Entropy change for water splitting reaction, J/mol·K 
:  StefanBoltzmann constant, (W/m^{2}·K^{4}) 
:  Rate of entropy produced across solar reactor, kW/K 
:  Rate of entropy produced across quench unit, kW/K 
:  Rate of entropy produced across water splitting reactor, kW/K. 
Conflict of Interests
The authors declare that there is no conflict of interests regarding the publication of this paper.
Acknowledgment
The authors gratefully acknowledge the financial support provided by the Qatar University Internal Grant (QUUGCENGCHE14/1510).
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Copyright © 2016 Rahul Bhosale et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.