Under the Paris Agreement, global warming
is not meant to exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2050. As things stand, the G20
countries are still a long way from achieving this goal. According to climate
experts, the next ten years are crucial. Power-to-X (PtX) is one of the
technologies that can bring the decarbonized future about faster with a
carbon-neutral power supply and an unimpeded flow of energy between the
electricity, heat and mobility sectors. After all, the energy transition is
trans-sectoral, so electricity, heat, transport and industrial usage need to be
interconnected optimally and efficiently in a single supply system.
PtX is not just about the synthetic fuels
produced by converting electricity from renewable sources. It also involves the
sustainable, flexible storage of Renewable Energy (RE) in the longer term. A
topical example shows just how important this is: Germany produces 40,000
megawatts of electricity a year in the offshore sector using solar and wind
energy. But every year, 5,500 MW are lost because the grids are unable to take
all the electricity that is generated. The objective is to store this
climate-neutral electricity and use it at times when no electricity can be
generated. Alongside the pump storage facilities generally used hitherto, the
battery is a candidate for energy storage. The disadvantage of the battery is
that a lot of CO2 is produced in its life cycle and its large weight
is problematic for many application scenarios, such as shipping. Producing fuel
for propulsion engines climate-neutrally therefore has to be an important
environmental contribution. Instead of storing sustainable energy in batteries,
MAN ES is focusing on the production of synthetic natural gas (SNG), which can
then be used as a fuel. Just now, PtX faces a number of obstacles, as the
following example illustrates.
PtX is not just about the synthetic fuels produced by converting electricity from renewable sources. It also involves the sustainable, flexible storage of Renewable Energy (RE) in the longer term.
Power-to-Gas is a way of obtaining
synthetic, climate-neutral gas from Renewable Energy. Hydrogen and oxygen are
produced by means of electrolysis from renewables that cannot be fed into the
grid. The ‘green’ hydrogen can be used directly to power fuel cells in cars,
buses, trains and planes, as well as stationary generators. It can drive
transport sector decarbonization forward. The hydrogen can also be used as a
raw material in refineries and basic industries. Adding CO2 to the
hydrogen in a methanation reactor produces methane, a climate-neutral synthesis
gas and forward-looking fuel.
The snag is that the cost of investing in
the key technology is currently holding back the success of PtX and making the
technology less economic than variants that are more harmful to the climate.
‘Green’ hydrogen – like all storage technologies at the present time – is
suffering under a rigid regulatory framework: In the existing energy system, if
a PtX application operator purchases the RE electricity from the grid, it falls
into the ultimate consumer category. It is therefore subject to grid charges,
duties and levies, forcing up the cost of operating the electrolyzer. This is a
job for politicians. They need to rethink the current energy system, as, the
way things are, the costs of the energy transition are being borne in large
part by the electricity sector. But the energy transition is trans-sectoral, so
the costs should be spread across all energy products. Legal regulations
without a technology bias would also reward the reduction of carbon emissions
and so create an incentive to operate a PtX facility. After all, while policy
still lags behind, the technology is ready for market now.
Audi produces synthetic natural gasfrom renewables at its facility in Werlte
A MAN Energy Solutions methanation
reactor that has been operating successfully at a German Audi plant since 2013
is an excellent example of PtX. The SNG (Synthetic Natural Gas) is fed into the
natural gas grid and fuels Audi customers’ gas-powered vehicles. “Our goal is
to take the concept that has proved itself in the Audi reactor to an industrial
scale. These aren’t just ideas. We have teams developing and designing these
systems, and investing in products and technologies that are ready for market.
We already offer a comprehensive 50 MW plant solution. We’re aiming to sell the
first system this year,” says Marc Grünewald, Head of Business Development and
New Energies in MAN Energy Solutions’ SBU Power.
Marc Grünewald is heading the Business Development and New Energies Department in MAN Energy Solutions’ SBU Power.
The future path of PtX now depends on the
legal accommodations that are reached. MAN ES is ready, that’s for sure.
of electricity are generated in Germany annually with solar and wind.
of electricity are lost every year because the networks cannot completely absorb the amount of electricity generated.
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