Dow Centre for Sustainable Engineering Innovation
School of Chemical Engineering

Techno-Economic Analysis

The Dow Centre team works using a top-down analysis methodology which examines quantitatively the economic potential of new process innovations. Before ever funding or pursuing laboratory research and development, the question must be asked – if everything works perfectly, what are the potential benefits to environmental and economic sustainability compared to present practices? Regardless of their potential environmental benefit, the Centre will not pursue processes which do not also have a reasonable chance of becoming economically sustainable under real and quantifiable scenarios. If in our analysis, the process studied has the economic and environmental potential to be significant and cost effectively deployed, then, and only then, will we move to the next step whereby specific technical barriers are identified and more detailed life-cycle-analyses and sustainability evaluations performed.

Techno-economics is the evaluation of technologies using models of economic inputs, costs, and benefits to support applied research, development, and commercial decisions. Techno-economic analysis (TEA) is a key focus of the Dow Centre, with a particular interest in new technologies and processes that improve the sustainability of the production and use of chemicals, energy, food, and water. TEA can help compare the economic performance of different processes and technologies, and can quantify the impact of different innovations on the commercialization potential of those technologies. Because there are many alternative ways to solve a problem, risk adjusted cost analysis of the different options is central to the development of sustainable solutions. No engineering solution will be widely adopted until and unless it has commercial value (economic sustainability).

Usually, experiments are the source of data used to construct models that project the economic performance of different processes, but experimental data alone is insufficient to make such projections. The main reason for this is that sub-processes are interconnected in a commercial setting, and that the scale of an experiment does not by design reveal factors that emerge at larger scales. TEA aids in solving this scale-dependent systems-level problem and provides quantitative estimates that allow its characterization.

The Dow Centre has completed or is working on preliminary techno-economic evaluations of the following processes:

  • Methane conversion using non-oxygen oxidants and biological fermentation.
  • Application of nuclear reactions to the production of chemicals
  • Macroalgae as a feedstock for major chemical products
  • Carbon fibers for lightweight, high efficiency vehicles from renewable feedstocks
  • Electrical energy storage using compressed gas in natural gas pipelines
  • Solar hydrogen production
  • Hydrogen-bromine flow batteries