The energy turnaround in Germany is progressing - but there are still unresolved problems in the renunciation of coal and nuclear power. How do you compensate for production peaks and valleys in power generation with wind and solar energy? After all, the sun does not shine permanently and even the wind does not drive the rotor blades of wind turbines constantly, for example, when it blows particularly strong, it comes to regional surpluses.
For both cases, ie over- and under-production of electricity, effective storage technology is needed. But it lacks so far. And in the transport sector, too, the energy revolution is slowing down: it will take some time before the last internal combustion engine stops operating, experts say (read more here).
One approach to addressing such issues is the development of climate-neutral fuels. Ideally, the manufacturing processes use surplus electricity and produce synthetic fuels, so-called e-fuels. On the outskirts of Karlsruhe, the world's first pilot plant has been launched that combines all necessary steps to produce fuel from electricity and air.
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This even benefits climate protection. Because the CO2-neutral fuel is produced in four steps: First, the system filters carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air. Then CO2 and water vapor are split into hydrogen and carbon monoxide. In the third phase, long hydrocarbon chains are formed. These are split in the fourth step so that gasoline, diesel or kerosene can be produced. The method could theoretically achieve an efficiency of around 60 percent. This means that 60 percent of the green electricity used is stored as chemical energy in the fuel.
The procedure was co-developed at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT). Thomas Hirth spoke at the official commissioning of the plant in the size of a shipping container of the "refinement of renewable energy".
The small pilot plant has already filled a barrel with e-fuel during the first trials, but more than ten liters a day do not come together. In the next stage, it should produce 200 liters per day. Manufacturing at industry level is targeted within ten years.
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A major advantage of the technology used is that it removes climate-damaging CO2 from the air. Since this is distributed all over the world in the air, "the plants can be anywhere in the world," said Roland Dittmeyer of KIT. For example, using solar power systems or wind turbines outside of the traditional supply infrastructure, fuel could be produced to drive cars, trucks, ships, and planes.
The project partners do not want to talk about the expected costs per liter of e-fuel with reference to the beginning of the technology. The most important factor is the electricity price. Peter Müller-Baum from the German Engineering Federation spoke of an industrial policy opportunity. It was important not only to be the technological world market leader. Such plants would also have to be built and operated in Germany.