Large Scale Photo-reactors for Environmentally Benign Solar Hydrogen Production

  • Ehsan BaniasadiEmail author
  • Ibrahim Dincer
  • Greg F. Naterer


In this entry, photo-reactors for catalytic solar hydrogen production are introduced and explained. To be an economical environmentally benign and sustainable pathway, hydrogen should be produced from a renewable energy source, i.e., solar energy. Solar driven water splitting combines several attractive features for sustainable energy utilization. The conversion of solar energy to a type of storable energy has crucial importance. In the first part of the entry, background information is presented regarding different photo-reactor configurations for water dissociation with light energy to generate hydrogen. The photo-electrochemistry of water splitting is discussed, as well as photo-catalytic reaction mechanisms. The design and scale-up of photo-reactors for photo-catalytic water splitting are explained by classification of light-based hydrogen production systems. At the end, a new photo-catalytic energy conversion system is analyzed for continuous production of hydrogen at a pilot-plant scale. Two methods of photo-catalytic water splitting and solar methanol steam reforming are investigated as two potential solar-based methods of catalytic hydrogen production. The exergy efficiency, exergy destruction, environmental impact, and sustainability index are investigated for these systems. The light intensity is found to be one of the key parameters in design and optimization of the photo-reactors, in conjunction with light absorptivity of the catalyst.


Photo-reactor Environmentally benign Solar hydrogen production Catalytic solar hydrogen production Sustainable energy utilization Photo-electrochemistry Water splitting Photo-catalytic reaction mechanisms Solar methanol steam reforming Exergy efficiency Exergy destruction Environmental impact Sustainability index Absorptivity Catalyst 



Surface area (m2)


Depletion number

\( {\overline{ ex}} \)

Molar specific exergy (kJ kmol−1)


Specific exergy (kJ kg−1)


Exergy (kJ)

\( \dot{E}{x}_S \)

Exergy rate of solar radiation per unit area (W m−2)


Faraday constant (C mol−1)


Gibbs free function (kJ)


Convective heat transfer coefficient (kW m−2 K−1)

\( {\overline{\rm h}} \)

Molar specific enthalpy (kJ kmol−1)


Radiosity (kW m−2)


Monochromatic intensity of radiation, depending on λ (kWm−3 srd−1)

\( \dot{\mathrm{n}} \)

Hydrogen production rate (mol s−1)


Pressure (Pa)


Heat flow (kJ kg−1)


Gas constant (J mol−1 K−1)


Specific entropy (kJ kg−1 K−1)


Entropy of the monochromatic intensity of radiation (kW m−3 K−1 srd−1)

\( {\overline{s}} \)

Molar specific entropy (kJ kmol−1K−1)


Temperature (K)


Voltage (V)


Velocity (m s−1)



Compound parabolic concentrator


Emission (kg kWh−1)


Hydrogen evolving reaction


Higher heating value


Oxygen evolving reaction


Sustainability index


Standard hydrogen electrode


Visible wavelength, 400–700 nm



Greek Symbols




Radiation weakening factor


Wavelength (m)







Non-visible wavelength range






Visible wavelengths range








Financial support of Phoenix Canada Oil Company Ltd. and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) is gratefully acknowledged.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ehsan Baniasadi
    • 1
    Email author
  • Ibrahim Dincer
    • 1
  • Greg F. Naterer
    • 2
  1. 1.Faculty of Engineering and Applied ScienceUniversity of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT)OshawaCanada
  2. 2.Faculty of Engineering and Applied ScienceMemorial University of NewfoundlandSt. John’sCanada

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