Feeds

Germans plan to make 'synthetic natural' gas from CO2

Megawatt trial: Could be huge for renewables, nuclear

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

Remorseless German and Austrian boffins have a cunning new plan which could be good news for cutting down on fossil fuel use: they can make "synthetic natural gas" using electric power, water and carbon dioxide.

"Our demonstration system in Stuttgart splits water using electrolysis. The result is hydrogen and oxygen," explains Dr Michael Specht of the Zentrum für Sonnenenergie- und Wasserstoff-Forschung (Solar energy and Waterstuff [Hydrogen] Research centre - ZSW).

"A chemical reaction of hydrogen with carbon dioxide [then] generates methane – and that is nothing other than natural gas, produced synthetically."

The process is thought to scale up well, with Specht and his colleagues planning to fire up a "double-digit megawatt range" unit by 2012.

The kit is intended to solve one of the great problems of renewable power supplies - wind, solar and tidal - which is that their electric output is variable and uncontrolled, bearing no relation to demand at the time. Storing electricity on a large scale can be done by pumping water uphill for later use in hydropower turbines, but this is expensive even where suitable geography exists.

Even with the present, fairly low fractions of wind and solar power seen on the linked grids of Germany and adjacent countries, sudden pulses of renewables output often result in negative electricity prices as renewables operators pay to get their power onto the grid (and so claim the subsidies which are the principal source of their revenues).

"Surplus wind and solar energy can be stored in this manner. During times of high wind speeds, wind turbines generate more power than is currently needed. This surplus energy is being more frequently reflected at the power exchange market through negative electricity prices," confirms Specht's colleague Dr Michael Sterner.

This is not a good situation for renewables, but scope for expansion of pumped storage at reasonable cost is limited in Germany. Hence the plan to store surplus electricity as gas, rather than by lifting water.

At the moment, pumped storage has better efficiency - 70 per cent or better of the electricity so stashed can be recovered, compared to the ZSW synthi-natural gas figure of "more than 60 per cent".

"In our opinion, this is definitely better than a total loss," says Specht, modestly.

The synthi-gas plan has other things going for it, however, which pumped storage doesn't offer. First off you can store a lot more power, as massive gas storage is already available within the gas grid - to the tune of 200 terawatt-hours in Germany, apparently. That's enough to cover months of present-day German gas demand, or alternatively to generate more than two months' German electricity assuming the gas is used in efficient combined-cycle turbine generators.

Thus Germany could potentially store enough renewable juice in gas form to last it through a days-long midwinter calm of the sort which feasible amounts of pumped storage could probably never cope with.

For nations like Germany and the UK which make massive use of gas in the home and industry, too, supplies of natural gas made sustainably are potentially a secure option compared to Russian imports, though they could never compete on price at the moment.

Next gen security for virtualised datacentres

More from The Register

next story
Gigantic toothless 'DRAGONS' dominated Earth's early skies
Gummy pterosaurs outlived toothy competitors
Vulture 2 takes a battering in 100km/h test run
Still in one piece, but we're going to need MORE POWER
TRIANGULAR orbits will help Rosetta to get up close with Comet 67P
Probe will be just 10km from Space Duck in October
Boffins ID freakish spine-smothered prehistoric critter: The CLAW gave it away
Bizarre-looking creature actually related to velvet worms
CRR-CRRRK, beep, beep: Mars space truck backs out of slippery sand trap
Curiosity finds new drilling target after course correction
'Leccy racer whacks petrols in Oz race
ELMOFO rakes in two wins in sanctioned race
Astronomers scramble for obs on new comet
Amateur gets fifth confirmed discovery
What does a flashmob of 1,024 robots look like? Just like this
Sorry, Harvard, did you say kilobots or KILLER BOTS?
NASA's rock'n'roll shock: ROLLING STONE FOUND ON MARS
No sign of Ziggy Stardust and his band
prev story

Whitepapers

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup
IT departments are embracing cloud backup, but there’s a lot you need to know before choosing a service provider. Learn all the critical things you need to know.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.
Rethinking backup and recovery in the modern data center
Combining intelligence, operational analytics, and automation to enable efficient, data-driven IT organizations using the HP ABR approach.
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.