In this paper, various aspects of trigeneration power plants including advantages, challenges and criteria for high efficiency operation are discussed. In trigeneration systems, prime movers are treated to be the heart of the plant and thus an appropriate selection is crucial for successful operation. A comparative analysis of potential prime movers, together with a comprehensive literature review used in trigeneration and, their selection criteria are presented. A case study of a trigeneration plant based on solid oxide fuel cells and an organic Rankine cycle is examined using thermodynamic analysis. This thermodynamic analysis includes performance assessment of the system through energy and exergy efficiencies. An environmental impact assessment is also conducted based on CO2 emissions as a measure. The present study reveals that compared to power cycle efficiency (considering net electrical efficiency), there is a minimum potential of 22% gain in efficiency when trigeneration is used. Also, it is shown that there is more than 200 kg MWh−1 reduction in CO2 emissions when trigeneration is used compared to the case where a power cycle is only used. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.