Nav: Home

How power-to-gas technology can be green and profitable

February 26, 2019

Hydrogen production based on wind power can already be commercially viable today. Until now, it was generally assumed that this environmentally friendly power-to-gas technology could not be implemented profitably. Economists at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), the University of Mannheim and Stanford University have now described, based on the market situations in Germany and Texas, how flexible production facilities could make this technology a key component in the transition of the energy system.

From fertilizer production, as a coolant for power stations or in fuel cells for cars: Hydrogen is a highly versatile gas. Today, most hydrogen for industrial applications is produced using fossil fuels, above all with natural gas and coal. In an environmentally friendly energy system, however, hydrogen could play a different role: as an important storage medium and a means of balancing power distribution networks: excess wind and solar energy can be used to produce hydrogen through water electrolysis. This process is known as power-to-gas. The hydrogen can recover the energy later, for example by generating power and heat in fuel cells, blending hydrogen into the natural gas pipeline network or converted into synthesis gas.

"Should I sell the energy or convert it?"

However, power-to-gas technology has always been seen as non-competitive. Gunther Glenk of the Chair of Management Accounting at TUM and Prof. Stefan Reichelstein, a researcher at the University of Mannheim and Stanford University, have now completed an analysis demonstrating the feasibility of zero-emission and profitable hydrogen production. Their study, published in the renowned journal Nature Energy, shows that one factor is essential in the current market environments in Germany and Texas:

The concept requires facilities that can be used both to feed power into the grid and to produce hydrogen. These combined systems, which are not yet in common use, must respond optimally to the wide fluctuations in wind power output and prices in power markets. "The operator can decide at any time: should I sell the energy or convert it," explains Stefan Reichelstein.

Production in some industries would already be profitable today

In Germany and Texas, up to certain production output levels, such facilities could already produce hydrogen at costs competitive with facilities using fossil fuels. In Germany, however, the price granted by the government would have to be paid for the generation of electric power instead for feeding it into the grid.

"For medium and small-scale production, these facilities would already be profitable now," says Reichelstein. Production on that scale is appropriate for the metal and electronics industries, for example - or for powering a fleet of forklift trucks on a factory site. The economists predict that the process will also be competitive in large-scale production by 2030, for example for refineries, ammonia production, assuming that wind power and electrolyte costs maintain the downward trajectory seen in recent years. "The use in fuel cells for trucks and ships is also conceivable", says Glenk.

Energy sources for intelligent infrastructure

The economists' model offers a planning blueprint for industry and energy policy. It can take into account many other factors, such as charges for carbon emissions, and calculate optimal sizing of the two sub-systems. It is also applicable to other countries and regions.

"Power-to-gas offers new business models for companies in various industries," says Glenk. "Power utilities can become hydrogen suppliers for industry. Manufacturers, meanwhile, can get involved in the decentralized power generation business with their own combined facilities. In that way, we can develop a climate-friendly and intelligent infrastructure that optimally links power generation, production and transport."
-end-
Publication: G. Glenk, S. Reichelstein: Economics of converting renewable power to hydrogen. Nature Energy, 2019. DOI: 10.1038/s41560-019-0326-1

More information: Gunther Glenk conducts research at the Center for Energy Markets of the TUM School of Management. The study was supported by the Hanns-Seidel-Stiftung with funding from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research.

Contact: Gunther Glenk, M.Sc.
Technical University of Munich (TUM)
Chair of Management Accounting
Tel: +49 89 289 22798 (Press Office)
gunther.glenk@tum.de

Technical University of Munich (TUM)

Related Hydrogen Articles:

Paving the way for hydrogen fuel cells
The hype around hydrogen fuel cells has died down, but scientists have continued to pursue new technologies that could enable such devices to gain a firmer foothold.
Keeping the hydrogen coming
A coating of molybdenum improves the efficiency of catalysts for producing hydrogen.
Hydrogen bonds directly detected for the first time
For the first time, scientists have succeeded in studying the strength of hydrogen bonds in a single molecule using an atomic force microscope.
Argon is not the 'dope' for metallic hydrogen
Hydrogen is both the simplest and the most-abundant element in the universe, so studying it can teach scientists about the essence of matter.
Metallic hydrogen, once theory, becomes reality
Nearly a century after it was theorized, Harvard scientists have succeeded in creating metallic hydrogen.
From theory to reality: The creation of metallic hydrogen
For more than 80 years, it has been predicted that hydrogen will adopt metallic properties under certain conditions, and now researchers have successfully demonstrated this phenomenon.
Artificial leaf goes more efficient for hydrogen generation
A new study, affiliated with Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology has introduced a new artificial leaf that generates hydrogen, using the power of the Sun to mimic underwater photosynthesis.
Hydrogen from sunlight -- but as a dark reaction
The storage of photogenerated electric energy and its release on demand are still among the main obstacles in artificial photosynthesis.
New process produces hydrogen at much lower temperature
Waseda University researchers have developed a new method for producing hydrogen, which is fast, irreversible, and takes place at much lower temperature using less energy.
Hydrogen in your pocket? New plastic for carrying and storing hydrogen
A Waseda University research group has developed a polymer which can store hydrogen in a light, compact and flexible sheet, and is safe to touch even when filled with hydrogen gas.

Related Hydrogen Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Changing The World
What does it take to change the world for the better? This hour, TED speakers explore ideas on activism—what motivates it, why it matters, and how each of us can make a difference. Guests include civil rights activist Ruby Sales, labor leader and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta, author Jeremy Heimans, "craftivist" Sarah Corbett, and designer and futurist Angela Oguntala.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#520 A Closer Look at Objectivism
This week we broach the topic of Objectivism. We'll be speaking with Keith Lockitch, senior fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute, about the philosophy of Objectivism as it's taught through Ayn Rand's writings. Then we'll speak with Denise Cummins, cognitive scientist, author and fellow at the Association for Psychological Science, about the impact of Objectivist ideology on society. Related links: This is what happens when you take Ayn Rand seriously Another Critic Who Doesn’t Care What Rand Thought or Why She Thought It, Only That She’s Wrong Quote is from "A Companion to Ayn Rand"