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Renewable Natural Gas - game changing?

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  • Renewable Natural Gas - game changing?

    Germany is moving forward to become a mostly energy independent solar economy.

    The end of nuclear power within a decade will also speed up the further developement of renewable energy sources.
    As of 2011 renewable energy sources generate about 21% of electricity and about 13% of final energy consumption.
    This includes about 45 TWh generated by windenergy. That's about 7.5% of german electricity consumption and equivalent of 5 huge nuclear reactors.

    But windpower has a "problematic" sideeffect.
    At a windy day, when the turbines work at maximum capacity, the output of the german windpower spikes to the equivalent of 13 huge nuclear reactors.
    Those days are great for exports, cheap electricity, but are a huge problem for the power grid. This leads to the unfortunate situation, that wind turbines have to be shut down to prevent overpowering the grid.

    This situation has lead to the development & optimization of power-to-gas conversion methodes.
    The process is basicly very simple and nothing new.
    In a first step electricity splits water into hydrogen & oxygen. In a second step, CO2 is being added to the hydrogen to produce methane.
    This Methane is a synthetic natural gas substitue and can be easily stored in tanks or the gas grid (capacity 200 TWh in Germany).

    First laboratory prototyps of efficent converters with a capacity of just 25 kW were build & tested in 2009 at the Frauenhofer Institute.
    A second series of prototyps with a capacity of 250kW converts the electricity with 66% efficenty into 10m³ methane per hour.

    Currently a handful of these converters are being build all across Germany on an industrial scale, with capacities of several MW.
    One of them is a 6.3 MW plant for the automaker AUDI, that will produce clean Gas for a new series of cargas vehicles.
    The Construction will start in 2012 and the plant will go into service in 2013. This project will cost about 15€ million euro and have an annual output to fuel 15.000 cars for a year or supply 10.000 households with heat & cooking gas.

    When those first industrial scale projects succeed, these converters will propably become a very successful technology that will be implemented at many huge wind farms or solar plants. Such a wide spread implementation will drive costs down and efficency further up, as more and more private enterprises will try to develope and produce the best & cheapest converters to supply the demand.

    Since SNG can simply be integrated with the existing gas infrastructure and is already being used as an transportation fuel, is this game changing?

  • #2
    Re: Renewable Natural Gas - game changing?

    It can be, though it still depends on a sprawling and fragile infrastructure controlled by someone else.

    Thats why I prefer the algae derived biodiesel approach.

    מה מכילות החדשות?


    • #3
      Re: Renewable Natural Gas - game changing?

      Hydrocarbons [where energy is stored in covalent bonds] are actually pretty simple from an organic chemistry standpoint. I've often wondered why it has taken so long for someone to figure out how to synthesize 'fossil' fuels. There is no free lunch from an energy standpoint though, so that would have to come from somewhere.

      But absolutely, it will be a game-changer. As in big and dramatic. And it's not if---it's when.

      מה מכילות החדשות?


      • #4
        Re: Renewable Natural Gas - game changing?

        Originally posted by Commodore View Post
        It can be, though it still depends on a sprawling and fragile infrastructure controlled by someone else.

        Thats why I prefer the algae derived biodiesel approach.
        I don't really understand your comment on the infrastructure.
        Once the technology goes into serial production, it becomes cheap and basicly "everyone" can build/invest in one.

        It also doesn't compete with biodiesel of any kind.
        It is mainly an energy storage solution that can be integrated with todays infrastructure and solves growing issues of wasted wind power.
        This becomes more and more relevant, considering that Germany will most likly see a rise of installed wind capacity to 60-80 GW (today it's 30 GW) in the coming decade.
        In comparision the entire US nuclear power has an installed capacity of 100 GW.

        The big utilities are promoting huge infrastructure investments like using hydroplants in norway or solar plants in north africa.
        They push such grand, slow & hard to acomplish strategies in order to keep their main cash-cow alife: grid transmission & distribution
        (that's 20% of the electricity price in Germany... compared to 30% for the actuall production)

        Originally posted by darth omar View Post
        Hydrocarbons [where energy is stored in covalent bonds] are actually pretty simple from an organic chemistry standpoint. I've often wondered why it has taken so long for someone to figure out how to synthesize 'fossil' fuels. There is no free lunch from an energy standpoint though, so that would have to come from somewhere.

        But absolutely, it will be a game-changer. As in big and dramatic. And it's not if---it's when.
        Synthetic hydrocarbons are indeed not new. What is a new developement is that you got massive amounts of "free" electricity but no way to use (sell) it.
        Using electricity to produce methane as an energy storage just doesn't make any sense when you got to burn another hydrocarbon in order to produce the required electricity.

        I think this technology will be implemented really fast.
        Like all renewable systems, it's a decentralized & modular technology.
        The technology is scaleable and the construction of facilites doesn't require a long time.
        Furthermore there are currently already about 7000+ Biogas powerplants all over germany.
        Those decentralized plants that are usually owned by farmers are gas & electricity producers already. They got all the necessary permitts and infrastructure to handle gas and they have excess to a clean CO2 source (the biomass fermentors). If just all of todays Biogas plants install a 1 MW power-to-gas converter, you got 7000 MW capacity.
        That's alot of gas ;c)

        Combine that with the decentralized electricity production capability by thousends of cogeneration plants being installed in buildings all over the country and you got a massive & smart solution for the grid-stability issue.

        Since a swarm of cogeneration plants can produce electricity close to the demand (for example in a city) there is also no need to transport huge amounts of electricity from centralized plants.
        Last edited by El_Zoido; 10-03-2011, 12:12 PM.

        מה מכילות החדשות?


        • #5
          Re: Renewable Natural Gas - game changing?

          Yeah, ultimately solar, wind, etc are probably going to use some sort of 'battery' storage to save/store the energy until you need it. In this case the 'battery' is the creation of fossil fuels from Hydrogen and Carbon. Our university is pushing some research dollars in that direction as well.

          מה מכילות החדשות?


          • #6
            Re: Renewable Natural Gas - game changing?

            Originally posted by Disillusioned_1 View Post
            Yeah, ultimately solar, wind, etc are probably going to use some sort of 'battery' storage to save/store the energy until you need it. In this case the 'battery' is the creation of fossil fuels from Hydrogen and Carbon. Our university is pushing some research dollars in that direction as well.
            What are the greens saying about it though? It's not carbon neutral.

            מה מכילות החדשות?


            • #7
              Re: Renewable Natural Gas - game changing?

              It is not fossil if you just made it ;-).

              This is not a new 'battery' it's a way to use excess renewable electricity to charge an existing battery.
              In case of the german gas distribution grid, that 'battery' has a capacity of 200 TWh. That's enough to power Germany for several months...

              And it can be a quick charger when wind turbines produce a peak output of several dozent GW or 135-200% of demand.

              It will be interssting to see market commercialisation drive cost down and efficency up. (both not too terrible right now actually)

              מה מכילות החדשות?


              • #8
                Re: Renewable Natural Gas - game changing?

                Originally posted by darth omar View Post
                What are the greens saying about it though? It's not carbon neutral.
                Actually Greenpeace Energy is also pushing this technology and building their first industrial scale converter next year.

                And it is carbon neutral.
                The CO2 from biogas plants is being used. Biogas plants produce methan from biomass. They also got alot of CO2 as a biproduct that is being filtered.

                Thats the same CO2 that was captured by plants for growth and would be released back into the atmosphere if the plants would simply rott.

                Not to mention that the transition to renewables is necessary with or without climate change.

                מה מכילות החדשות?


                • #9
                  Re: Renewable Natural Gas - game changing?

                  Originally posted by El_Zoido View Post
                  Actually Greenpeace Energy is also pushing this technology and building their first industrial scale converter next year.

                  And it is carbon neutral.
                  The CO2 from biogas plants is being used. Biogas plants produce methan from biomass. They also got alot of CO2 as a biproduct that is being filtered.

                  Thats the same CO2 that was captured by plants for growth and would be released back into the atmosphere if the plants would simply rott.

                  Not to mention that the transition to renewables is necessary with or without climate change.
                  Didn't know the carbon neutral bit. I'm not a believer so that fact is irrelevant, imo. Though I think what we'll see is that hyrdrocarbons will be synthesized from the cheapest source---irrespective of neutrality.

                  And I agree that the transition is neccessary. But I'm a free market kind of guy so I prefer allowing the market to dictate when the transition occurs.

                  מה מכילות החדשות?


                  • #10
                    Re: Renewable Natural Gas - game changing?

                    Originally posted by darth omar View Post
                    Didn't know the carbon neutral bit. I'm not a believer so that fact is irrelevant, imo. Though I think what we'll see is that hyrdrocarbons will be synthesized from the cheapest source---irrespective of neutrality.

                    And I agree that the transition is neccessary. But I'm a free market kind of guy so I prefer allowing the market to dictate when the transition occurs.
                    I think as a free market dude you should ask yourself:
                    What market? Is there a functioning conventional energy market.

                    Last time I checked the conventional energy system was a centralized distribution system designed to provide a profit to every part of the distribution chain.
                    There are no real forces at work that drive cost & prices down. Since it's all based on finite ressources prices can only go up.. especially in the long run.
                    But even today, production quotas that determine the price are set by energy cartells (like OPEC) and it's just as fucked up all the way down the long trail of dependent sectors.
                    It is a centralized planned economic sector...as a free market proponent myself it makes me kind of sick.

                    The fact is:
                    The German renewable energy act (EEG) works because it is a neo-liberal (ordoliberalism) free market approach. That's why its more successful, more efficient and alot cheaper than emission-rights trading or artificial quotas.

                    The law did legislate a new market, enforced a right for market(grid) access for all producers and created investment security by giving annually decreasing energy production related incentives to help fund initial R&D expenditures.
                    It is also not a subsidie... the energy oligopoles sued Germany at the EU and lost about it.

                    It just favours profits by many domestic market participants & the long term benefits of marketforces over special interessts who got where they are by favourable regulations or the previous non-existance/ distortion of the energy market.
                    Last edited by El_Zoido; 10-03-2011, 05:42 PM.

                    מה מכילות החדשות?


                    • #11
                      Re: Renewable Natural Gas - game changing?

                      Originally posted by El_Zoido View Post
                      I think as a free market dude you should ask yourself:
                      What market? Is there a functioning conventional energy market.
                      Well, here in WV the current administration is blocking mining permits and has the coal industry pretty jacked-up with its centralized control of coal production. It's costing jobs in WV [and just about everywhere they mine coal] and driving up the price of everyone's electricity to boot. So the market isn't functioning here very well at all.

                      And it certainly isn't a free market. If it were, consumers would be paying less for electricity.

                      Originally posted by El-Zoido
                      Last time I checked the conventional energy system was a centralized distribution system designed to provide a profit to every part of the distribution chain.
                      There are no real forces at work that drive cost & prices down. Since it's all based on finite ressources prices can only go up.. especially in the long run.
                      But even today, production quotas that determine the price are set by energy cartells (like OPEC) and it's just as fucked up all the way down the long trail of dependent sectors.
                      It is a centralized planned economic sector...as a free market proponent myself it makes me kind of sick.

                      The fact is:
                      The German renewable energy act (EEG) works because it is a neo-liberal (ordoliberalism) free market approach. That's why its more successful, more efficient and alot cheaper than emission-rights trading or artificial quotas.

                      The law did legislate a new market, enforced a right for market(grid) access for all producers and created investment security by giving annually decreasing energy production related incentives to help fund initial R&D expenditures.
                      It is also not a subsidie... the energy oligopoles sued Germany at the EU and lost about it.

                      It just favours profits by many domestic market participants & the long term benefits of marketforces over special interessts who got where they are by favourable regulations or the previous non-existance/ distortion of the energy market.
                      I don't how you can prevent people from profiting along the route from energy supplier to consumer. Oil is transmitted by pipeline or barge; it's refined into petrol and then trucked to dealers. Everyone makes money along the way. It's not being realistic to expect otherwise.

                      מה מכילות החדשות?


                      • #12
                        Re: Renewable Natural Gas - game changing?

                        Originally posted by darth omar View Post
                        Well, here in WV the current administration is blocking mining permits and has the coal industry pretty jacked-up with its centralized control of coal production. It's costing jobs in WV [and just about everywhere they mine coal] and driving up the price of everyone's electricity to boot. So the market isn't functioning here very well at all.

                        And it certainly isn't a free market. If it were, consumers would be paying less for electricity.



                        I don't how you can prevent people from profiting along the route from energy supplier to consumer. Oil is transmitted by pipeline or barge; it's refined into petrol and then trucked to dealers. Everyone makes money along the way. It's not being realistic to expect otherwise.
                        Well, coal mining thing is the first link in a chain. Aquireing permits for mining operations and the concession to violate peoples property rights is an element of buisness.

                        I wouldn't call it a controlled market just because permits are not granted. It is also not relevant to a free market.
                        A free / functioning market, is not defined by the existence of huge profits or expanding the exploitation of ressources.

                        The benefits of a free market require competition and market access for as many competitors as possible.
                        There was also a "Socialist Public Limited Corperation" (yeah they got stocks & shit aswell) running one of the hugest uranium mining operations of the world in East Germany untill 1990. That was communism, it had huge output and had absolutly nothing to do with free markets.

                        The issue about markets is the lack of regional consumer choice & absence of competition.
                        How many huge utilities compete for consumers in a certain area?
                        How often do you see a modern more efficent coal plant being build by one utility in order to produce electricity cheaper than a competitor in an afford to get more customers in a region?
                        Is anyone building new grids in order to reduce cost?

                        Nope Nope Nope.

                        Most utilities are regional monopolies. They got shares of the mining operations, controll the grid in their area, got their monopoly on regional production and sell the electricity.
                        The energy System doesn't really allow for real competition. Conventional energy prices are not technology driven => don't decline due to innovation & technological advances.
                        There is no benefit or real difference from the point of a utility to care about the price of their product.... profit is ensured.


                        Last but not least:
                        In West Virginia coal is super cheap & abundant. Power is actually among the cheapest in the US at about 7-9 cent per kWh. It doesn't really get cheaper than being next to one of the few sources of coal exports of the world.
                        But even West Virginia is giving subsidies to coal... direct subsidies for projects, loan gurantees,... Why is that?

                        Coal also usually claims that it is a super cheap form of power generation. Only 4ct per kWh they say... awesome!
                        But why is electricity 7-8 ct per kWh even in WV? Ah... the cost of transmission.

                        Now consider this:
                        In Morbach (a small community of 11.000 inhabitants in the German heartland) the electricity costs for commercial customers is just 6,5 ct per kWh. The power comes from a comprehensive renewable power system that combines wind-solar-biomass-biogass and (since earlier this year) the power-to-gas system.
                        The whole system did only require investments of 45 million Euro, spend over the course of 6 years.
                        45€ Million Euro sounds much? That's a one time investment of just 7000€ for each of the 6500 households in Morbach.

                        Furthermore: The technologies that were applied in Morbach saw a huge decline of installation costs in recent years. That means that a new project like this would be even more cost efficent.



                        Of course that approach would be totally unrealistic in the state of West Virginia....
                        I mean Charleston got 50.000 inhabitants.... :rolleyes: IMPOSSIBLE!
                        Last edited by El_Zoido; 10-04-2011, 07:01 AM.

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                        • #13
                          Re: Renewable Natural Gas - game changing?

                          Originally posted by El_Zoido View Post
                          Now consider this:
                          In Morbach (a small community of 11.000 inhabitants in the German heartland) the electricity costs for commercial customers is just 6,5 ct per kWh. The power comes from a comprehensive renewable power system that combines wind-solar-biomass-biogass and (since earlier this year) the power-to-gas system.
                          The whole system did only require investments of 45 million Euro, spend over the course of 6 years.
                          45€ Million Euro sounds much? That's a one time investment of just 7000€ for each of the 6500 households in Morbach.

                          Furthermore: The technologies that were applied in Morbach saw a huge decline of installation costs in recent years. That means that a new project like this would be even more cost efficent.

                          Of course that approach would be totally unrealistic in the state of West Virginia....
                          I mean Charleston got 50.000 inhabitants.... :rolleyes: IMPOSSIBLE!
                          Every single person in Morbach would have had to pay ~3.800€ which is substantial. For a family of 4, that is 15.000€ which means they could have had all of their electricity bills covered for 15-20 years as an alternative. Now if you figure the time-value of money, that would amount to about 30 years of electricity bills. On the other hand, what is the lifespan before major maintenance of those wind power generators? I'm all for alternative energy, wind, solar, etc, but it needs to make more financial sense.

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                          • #14
                            Re: Renewable Natural Gas - game changing?

                            Originally posted by Disillusioned_1 View Post
                            Every single person in Morbach would have had to pay ~3.800€ which is substantial. For a family of 4, that is 15.000€ which means they could have had all of their electricity bills covered for 15-20 years as an alternative. Now if you figure the time-value of money, that would amount to about 30 years of electricity bills. On the other hand, what is the lifespan before major maintenance of those wind power generators? I'm all for alternative energy, wind, solar, etc, but it needs to make more financial sense.
                            I think using households makes more sense.
                            - 4 people do not consume 4 times the electricity of 1.
                            - Neither do children without income pay their own electricity.

                            When you use average households as the basis for a calculation like this, you get the better result. Average households includes poor & rich people, young & old, singles & families.
                            It's of course not the point of the example that it would only be possible if ALL households pitch in. That would be too difficult to organize.

                            The point of my example was that a few people can pool their capital and build projects like this.
                            They can use their savings or get financing for a multi-million project like that and become energy producers who provide energy at a cheaper & stable (!) rate to their community than huge utilities.
                            In such community / local residents controlled projects you usually got a few dozens of people who are the main investors. They put 50.000 or 100.000 or even more Euros on the table.
                            To get more people onboard they sell shares of 500€ or 1000€ each to the local community.
                            Sure, their profit margine will not be 10-20%, but it's better for local buisness people to add the value in their local economy.

                            I don't understand why 7.000€ per household should be a huge issue for a family. That's not exactly like 200.000€ for a new home.
                            Morbach is located in a west German state, the average private household income is 47.750€ (about $65.000) and an average disposable income of 37.800€ (about $51.000)
                            The household savingsrate is about 12% in Germany => you got household capital formation (savings) of about 4500€ ($6000) every year.

                            Besides: The Morbach renewable-power park doesn't not only cover their demand.
                            They produce 3x the electricity they need in Morbach. That means that additional revenue is generated.
                            With the power-to-gas technology they also got the ability to use that additional electricity from their wind & solar power to make transportation fuel (cargas).
                            Last edited by El_Zoido; 10-04-2011, 09:34 AM.

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                            • #15
                              Re: Renewable Natural Gas - game changing?

                              Originally posted by El_Zoido View Post
                              I don't really understand your comment on the infrastructure.
                              Once the technology goes into serial production, it becomes cheap and basicly "everyone" can build/invest in one.
                              We have a phrase in US, "Call before you dig", because of the proliferation of buried utilities, ranging from sewer, power, telecom, ng. But the NG lines are the only ones that will blow up the neighborhood if you nick them with your backhoe.

                              A Sabatier reactor could absolutely stand side by side with photobioreactors producing algae for fuel and feed for livestock.
                              Originally posted by El_Zoido View Post
                              It also doesn't compete with biodiesel of any kind.
                              It is mainly an energy storage solution that can be integrated with todays infrastructure and solves growing issues of wasted wind power.
                              NG and biodiesel are absolutely competitors for energy storage. Both can be burned with existing diesel technology. The difference is biodiesel is liquid at standard pressures, and is not an uber greenhouse gas if leaked.
                              Originally posted by El_Zoido View Post
                              The big utilities are promoting huge infrastructure investments like using hydroplants in norway or solar plants in north africa.
                              They push such grand, slow & hard to acomplish strategies in order to keep their main cash-cow alife: grid transmission & distribution
                              (that's 20% of the electricity price in Germany... compared to 30% for the actuall production)
                              The grid is still an invaluable asset for the energy market, if it allows energy to flow both ways. Wouldn't it be awesome if you could get a discount on products if you transmitted your spare juice to the manufacturer.

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