Accelerate sustainable energy and smoothly phase out fossil energy yet keeping the energy supply safe, available and affordable, and save energy at the same time. This ambition underlies the decision of ECN and TNO to cluster strengths as ‘ECN part of TNO’. The plan has eight roadmaps. Five questions and answers about the roadmap ‘Towards CO2-neutral fuels and raw materials’.
In order to meet the climate targets of Paris, it is necessary to speed up the energy transition. This requires technical, social and policy innovations. ECN part of TNO is taking on the challenge, by carrying out programmes in conjunction with the Dutch industry, research institutions and the government in eight related roadmaps. René Peters, director of gas technology at TNO, answers five questions about one of those roadmaps.
1. What is the purpose of the roadmap ‘Towards CO2-neutral fuels and raw materials’?
“Far-reaching reduction of CO2 emissions requires a major transition in the transport sector. At present, petroleum-based fuels are dominant there. That is why in the coming decades we will be developing liquid fuels with a small CO2 footprint for heavy freight transport, shipping and aviation. Electric driving is an important option for passenger transport, with batteries or hydrogen as an energy carrier. Moreover, in the various programmes we focus on new raw materials for the industry, including plastics, chemical products and artificial fertilisers.”
“In the coming decades we will be developing liquid fuels with a small CO2 footprint for heavy freight transport, shipping and aviation”
2. How are you going to achieve that?
“We’ll do it in two stages. Firstly, we will make far more use of residual flows from biomass, such as wood and pruning waste. This along will already significantly reduce the CO2 footprint. The second stage will take a few years longer. We have to go all the way back to the building blocks of fuels and raw materials, such as hydrogen, carbon monoxide or carbon dioxide. From these basic elements it is possible to use chemical conversion processes to produce all kinds of fuels. Now they are still made from natural gas, but with electricity you can split water into hydrogen and oxygen, and with that you produce hydrogen as a building block for a new fuel. In this way we make it possible to reduce the CO2 footprint to zero in the long term.”
3. Why is it so essential to cluster strengths?
“ECN part of TNO is essential to accelerate the energy transition and at the same time strengthen the competitive position of the Netherlands. Both organisations have a strong position in the field of energy technology. At ECN this mainly concerns solar and wind energy, biomass research and energy efficiency. TNO has expertise in the subsurface, particularly for oil and gas production, geothermal energy, CO2 storage, energy storage and heat storage. We have already worked together in various areas, such as in Solliance for solar cell technology, in VoltaChem for electrochemistry and in North Sea Energy for system integration in the North Sea. This new collaboration only makes us stronger. With the knowledge institute of more than 700 experts created by clustering strengths, we cover the entire energy spectrum: from traditional to completely renewable energy sources.”
“Through the partnership of the Top Sector Energy, knowledge institutions and industry in the entire chain, we can bring the innovations to the market sooner”
4. Who else do you work with?
“We work closely with companies throughout the entire production chain of fuels and raw materials: process designers, plant builders, end users, and so on. For example, with Royal Dahlman and Gasunie, HVC and TAQA the focus is on gasification technology that we jointly develop and market (see text box). Or with oil companies such as Shell and Total with whom we are searching for alternatives to fuels, such as biofuels or hydrogen. Traditionally we focused on the oil and gas sector; now the energy sector has been added. We also see more and more companies outside the traditional players subscribing to the innovation programmes and we invite interested companies to contact us.”
5. When will it be ready?
“The roadmaps often have a duration of several years. But precisely because of the public-private partnership of Top Sector Energy, knowledge institutions and industry in the entire chain, we can bring the innovations to the market sooner. In each programme we work together with all stakeholders right from the start, sometimes ten or twenty partners at the same time. In this way we can develop innovations much faster, and in the course of the development process we immediately contribute to reducing CO2 emissions.”
“We will make far more use of residual flows from biomass, such as wood and pruning waste”
While one technology is still in its infancy, the other is being demonstrated and scaled up in practice. The MILENA-OLGA project is working on a pilot in Alkmaar, in which we produce biogas not through the already widely used method of fermentation but through thermochemical gasification. By heating the biomass without oxygen, it decomposes into components such as methane and hydrogen. This technology appears to be very attractive for dry biomass such as wood. The biogas is injected into the gas grid as a replacement for Groningen gas or used directly in processes. Parallel to the pilot is a research programme to further improve the technology. In this way, the partners are also bringing their innovative technology in this project more quickly to market.
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