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Is direct seawater splitting economically meaningful?

Hausmann, J. Niklas; Schlögl, Robert; Menezes, Prashanth W.; Drieß, Matthias

Electrocatalytic water splitting is the key process for the formation of green fuels for energy transport and storage in a sustainable energy economy. Besides electricity, it requires water, an aspect that seldomly has been considered until recently. As freshwater is a limited resource (<1% of earth's water), lately, plentiful reports were published on direct seawater (around 96.5% of earth's water) splitting without or with additives (buffers or bases). Alternatively, the seawater can be split in two steps, where it is first purified by reverse osmosis and then split in a conventional water electrolyser. This quantitative analysis discusses the challenges of the direct usage of non-purified seawater. Further, herein, we compare the energy requirements and costs of seawater purification with those of conventional water splitting. We find that direct seawater splitting has substantial drawbacks compared to conventional water splitting and bears almost no advantage. In short, it is less promising than the two-step scenario, as the capital and operating costs of water purification are insignificant compared to those of electrolysis of pure water.
Published in: Energy and Environmental Science, 10.1039/d0ee03659e, Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC)