Bio Hydrogen - How does Biomass-based Green hydrogen compare economically with electrolysis-based Green hydrogen? - India Renewable Energy Consulting – Solar, Biomass, Wind, Cleantech
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Themes and Topics

  • Biomass-based green hydrogen
  • Electrolysis-based green hydrogen
  • Gasification
  • Green hydrogen economics.
  • Haldor Topsoe
  • Nel Hydrogen
  • Pyrolysis
  • SGH2 Energy Global
  • Siemens Energy
  • TIGAS process
  • How does Biomass-based Green hydrogen compare economically with electrolysis-based Green hydrogen?

    The comparison between biomass-based green hydrogen and electrolysis-based green hydrogen involves several factors, including economic considerations, technological pathways, efficiency, and yield. Both methods aim to produce hydrogen in an environmentally friendly manner, but they differ significantly in their processes and economic viability.

    Economic Comparison

    • Cost Factors: The cost of producing green hydrogen via electrolysis largely depends on the price of electricity from renewable sources and the capital costs of electrolyzers. As renewable energy costs continue to decrease and electrolyzer technology advances, the cost of electrolysis-based hydrogen is expected to decline. Biomass-based hydrogen, on the other hand, involves costs related to biomass feedstock procurement, processing, and conversion technologies. The economic viability of biomass-based hydrogen thus depends on the availability and price of biomass, as well as the efficiency of conversion technologies.
    • Scale and Infrastructure: Electrolysis-based hydrogen production benefits from scalability and can be directly linked to renewable energy sources (like wind and solar farms). Biomass-based hydrogen production is constrained by the availability and logistics of biomass feedstock, which can vary significantly by region.

    Biomass to Green Hydrogen Pathways

    Biomass can be converted into hydrogen through several pathways, including:

    • Gasification: Biomass is subjected to high temperatures in an oxygen-limited environment to produce syngas (a mixture of hydrogen, carbon monoxide, and CO2), which is then processed to separate and purify hydrogen.
    • Pyrolysis: This involves heating biomass in the absence of oxygen to produce bio-oil, which can then be steam reformed to produce hydrogen.
    • Biological Processes: Certain microorganisms or enzymes can produce hydrogen from biomass under specific conditions, though this method is generally less developed compared to thermochemical processes.

    Biomass Green Hydrogen Efficiency

    • Conversion Efficiency: The efficiency of converting biomass to hydrogen varies depending on the process used. Gasification can achieve higher efficiencies compared to pyrolysis, with modern gasifiers achieving thermal efficiencies that can make the overall process competitive. However, the efficiency is also influenced by the type and condition of the biomass feedstock.
    • Energy Return on Investment (EROI): The EROI for biomass-based hydrogen can vary widely but is a critical factor in determining its economic and environmental viability. Improvements in process efficiencies and integration with renewable energy sources for process heat can enhance EROI.

    Biomass Green Hydrogen Yield

    • Yield Factors: The hydrogen yield from biomass depends on the biomass composition (especially its moisture and lignin content), the conversion technology used, and the process conditions. Generally, dry and cellulose-rich biomass materials provide higher yields.
    • Optimization: Research is ongoing to optimize conversion processes (such as gasification and pyrolysis) and to develop genetically engineered microorganisms for biological production pathways to increase the yield of hydrogen from biomass.

    Economic Viability and Future Prospects

    • Comparative Costs: Currently, electrolysis-based green hydrogen is viewed as more expensive than conventional hydrogen production methods but is expected to become more competitive as technology advances and costs of renewable electricity decline. Biomass-based hydrogen’s economics are influenced by feedstock costs and process efficiencies, which can vary widely. In regions with abundant and cheap biomass resources, it may offer a competitive alternative.
    • Sustainability and Availability: The sustainability of biomass-based hydrogen production depends on the responsible sourcing of biomass to avoid negative environmental impacts. Electrolysis, provided it is powered by renewable energy, is generally considered more sustainable due to its lower environmental footprint.

    Case Study:

    Biomass-based green hydrogen production involves converting biomass feedstock such as agricultural residues, organic waste, or dedicated energy crops into hydrogen through processes like gasification or pyrolysis followed by water-gas shift reaction. On the other hand, electrolysis-based green hydrogen production utilizes electricity from renewable sources to split water into hydrogen and oxygen.

    Let’s compare the economics of these two approaches using a hypothetical case study:

    • Biomass-based Green Hydrogen:
      • Capital Costs: $1,000 per kW
      • Operating Costs: $4 per kg of hydrogen
      • Biomass feedstock cost: $50 per ton
      • Conversion efficiency: 60%
      • Cost of hydrogen: $2.67 per kg
    • Electrolysis-based Green Hydrogen:
      • Capital Costs: $500 per kW
      • Operating Costs: $6 per kg of hydrogen
      • Electricity cost: $0.05 per kWh
      • Conversion efficiency: 70%
      • Cost of hydrogen: $3.42 per kg

    Specific Challenges:

    • Biomass-based Green Hydrogen:
      • Dependence on biomass feedstock availability and price fluctuations.
      • Variability in feedstock composition affecting process efficiency.
      • Environmental concerns related to land use for energy crops.
    • Electrolysis-based Green Hydrogen:
      • Reliance on renewable electricity availability and grid stability.
      • High initial capital investment for electrolyzer units.
      • Efficiency losses in electricity transmission and conversion.

    Top Companies:

    • Biomass-based Green Hydrogen:
      • SGH2 Energy Global: They specialize in converting biomass into green hydrogen using a high-temperature gasification process.
      • Haldor Topsoe: Known for their biomass-based hydrogen production technologies such as the TIGAS process.
    • Electrolysis-based Green Hydrogen:
      • Nel Hydrogen: A leading manufacturer of electrolyzers for green hydrogen production.
      • Siemens Energy: Offers electrolysis solutions for various scales of green hydrogen production.


    • Many experts have noted that in agri-residue-rich India, the biomass route is better than the electrolysis route for producing green hydrogen. At the India Energy Week that was held in Bengaluru on February 2023, Indian Oil Corporation’s Director-R&D, Dr SSV Ramakumar, described the biomass-route as “very, very promising”, that does not suffer from the demerits of electrolysis, such as the requirement of large quantities of pure water.
    • According to industry analyst  Shayne Willette, “Some say green hydrogen should be expanded to include other clean hydrogen production pathways beyond electrolysis”. While pointing out that biomass gasification “has not been assigned a color”, he explains that it has been used for hydrogen production in the United States since the early 1990s.“As the world continues to push for decarbonization, it is important to explore all solutions on the table,” he adds. In the announcement of its Strategy for Energy System Integration, the European Commission makes the same point: “biomass gasification has not been assigned a color, though its usage for hydrogen production is not a new process”.
    • According to the US Department of Energy, gasification plants for biofuels “can provide best practices and lessons learned for hydrogen production”, adding that it “anticipates that biomass gasification could be deployed in the near-term timeframe”.


    Both biomass-based and electrolysis-based green hydrogen production have their advantages and challenges from an economic standpoint. Biomass-based green hydrogen offers a potentially lower cost of hydrogen production but is subject to feedstock availability and environmental considerations. Electrolysis-based green hydrogen, while currently more expensive, benefits from the decreasing cost of renewable electricity and ongoing technological advancements in electrolyzer efficiency.

    Ultimately, the choice between these two approaches may depend on factors such as local resource availability, policy incentives, and long-term sustainability goals. Further research and development are needed to optimize both pathways and drive down costs to make green hydrogen economically competitive with conventional hydrogen production methods.

    About Narasimhan Santhanam (Narsi)

    Narsi, a Director at EAI, Co-founded one of India's first climate tech consulting firm in 2008.

    Since then, he has assisted over 250 Indian and International firms, across many climate tech domain Solar, Bio-energy, Green hydrogen, E-Mobility, Green Chemicals.

    Narsi works closely with senior and top management corporates and helps then devise strategy and go-to-market plans to benefit from the fast growing Indian Climate tech market.

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