Storing green power is a key milestone when it comes to the successful implementation of the energy transition. Converting it into hydrogen or synthetic natural gas is a concept that shows a great deal of promise and involves the stages of water electrolysis, methanation, and feeding the power into the natural gas grid. SICK’s involvement relates to gas analysis and the detection of gas flows and consumption rates.
A large number of financial incentives are offered for wind and solar power in Europe. The industry has grown very rapidly in Germany: by 2050, the target is to have reduced the amount of CO2 emitted from fossil fuels by 95% compared to 1990. However, the problem is that biopower production fluctuates depending on the weather and is therefore not a reliable source of supply for the industry. As the grid has not been developed and there is a shortage of balancing capacity, the power lines are in danger of being overloaded by surpluses of biopower. Consequently, producers of renewable power have to shut their systems down temporarily or give the surpluses away to neighboring countries. Therefore intensive research is being carried out into finding good storage options.
Power-to-gas: Generating hydrogen from green power
Of particular promise is the power-to-gas method, which was developed in 2011 by researchers in Stuttgart and is also well supported in Europe. The technology involves using electrolysis to generate hydrogen from green power. With the aid of separated CO2, for example from neighboring biogas fermenters, it is processed to form storable synthetic natural gas and can be stored in the German natural gas grid. Alternatively, the hydrogen can also be used in vehicle fuel cells as a drive source. This means that the process is also of interest to car manufacturers. The level of efficiency of methanation has previously been criticized as being too low. However, this could soon be set to significantly improve by means of high-temperature electrolysis at 800° C and using waste process heat.
SICK and its analyzers are involved at an early stage
There are now over 20 pilot plants which are working on getting power-to-gas ready for market. SICK is also involved in the development with its range of analyzers and gas flow meters. For example, the purity of the separated CO2 and the quality of the bio-methane needs to be monitored. In addition the maximum permissible hydrogen content of 5% must be ensured at the natural gas feed-in stations. Ultrasonic gas flow meters such as the FLOWSIC500 enable the gas flows and consumption rates to be precisely monitored and calculated.
Markus Haas is the man in the know when it comes to power-to-gas at SICK: “I like to think outside the box“
For three years, Markus Haas has been driving the subject of power-to-gas forward at SICK – based on a keen sense for and a genuine interest in new technologies. “I like to think outside the box and it had occurred to me that this might be an interesting field for the future, including from a process and exhaust gas analysis perspective,“ explains this enterprising engineer, who works in the “Process Automation Solution Center,” predominantly on marine diesel analysis. Thanks to his idealism and commitment to the work in his own time, he succeeded in getting SICK to explore measuring tasks involved in this industry of the future from a practical point of view. Thanks to Markus Haas, SICK has been participating in the work right from the first analysis devices.
How did he come across power-to-gas? “It all started quite mundanely with a piece of direct mail from Badenova, our local energy supplier,“ relates Markus Haas. “The brochure described an innovative research project with the Fraunhofer Institute which was concerned with the conversion of surplus wind and solar power into storable natural gas.” When Haas discovered that the project was still looking for industry partnerships, he gave Badenova a call. This enabled the SICK engineer to come into contact with DENA, the German Energy Agency, which is a government-funded project platform that was set up specifically for energy-related research. There, creditors, scientists, as well as energy, technology, and automotive groups work flat out to turn highly promising storage and energy technology into efficient and profitable options as quickly as possible.
This provided Haas with the opportunity to visit events and pilot plants and demonstrated that SICK was already a well-known name in the sector. Markus Haas himself was fascinated by the new processes and possibilities, but also by the obstacles that were hindering their implementation to a greater or lesser extent: “The ideal scenario would be to store the energy in the form of hydrogen in the natural gas grid. But as gas mixtures are now only allowed to include a hydrogen content of up to 5%, this would mean many gas suppliers having to convert their turbines,“ he explains, giving one example. “Until the 1980s, a hydrogen content of up to 50% was permitted in the natural gas grid. He also found it astounding that “there was relatively little awareness of the subject of measuring technology.” He also added that hardly any thought had been given to how important precise measured values would be to ensuring a reliable supply and consumption downstream. Markus Haas acquired tender documents and promptly obtained the first small order: The new Thea electrolysis plant, which feeds hydrogen into Frankfurt’s energy grid, uses a SICK hydrogen meter.