Successful Energy Transition needs a Democratization in use of existing infrastructure

Isn’t it great how many private house owners had solar PV panels put onto their roofs do something against Climate Change? Getting the feeling of independence and self-sufficiency even enticed many to complement their installations with back-up batteries. Unfortunately, that sense for freedom often entices the same people to buy an SUV, still rarely equipped with an electric powertrain. 

When it comes to heating and driving existing infrastructures often hit the ceiling for going renewable. Especially in the wintertime certain suburban or rural areas can’t draw enough grid-electricity needed for driving a heat-pump and possibly a home EV-charger station. Should the democratization of energy really end at selling summer excess PV-electricity from the roof to the grid for generally 1⁄3 the price payable for the own consumption, including all domestic and private mobility attainments? 

Austrian politics for some equivocal reasons have been being pushing lopsidedly for Power-to-X only. Even the additional 380kV transnational power transmission line now got clearance after almost 20 years pushback! However, such centralized infrastructure enhancement won’t empower energy users to take own initiatives towards becoming more sustainable prosumers. In other words, such measures publicly paid by energy fees and tariffs won’t broadly spur the Energy Transition of private sectors. 

Seasonal storage of volatile regenerative Electricity is the actual bottleneck of a swift energy transition. So the question should actually be, what can the private households do against that? Where there is a will, there should be a way! One of the most versatile and secure energy supplies is Europe’s Natural Gas grid! Many households are already connected to it and most of the others could use CNG-tanks. Unfortunately, there’s widespread nescience about Natural Gas practically being Methane [CH4]. 

Methane is the sole heir of residual energy content in ceased matter. Because Nature energetically just uses 3 atoms: Carbon – Hydrogen – Oxygen to form solar energy storing compounds in biomass which follows the chemical structure of Carbohydrates – everybody managing his body-mass index knows to be energy one should match his meals with one’s physical and mental activities’ energy demand. Yes, and depending on our stored energy in body-fat, 1⁄3 of our body-mass consists of Carbon. 

When Carbohydrates cease Nature transforms mass into gases composed of the same 3 atoms: Energy which thermodynamically can’t be lost becomes CH4 (Methane) while water (H2O) balances mass while all transition losses are represented by CO2. Exactly the three educts of a waste dump! Nature teaches us in that lesson hence, that it stores its cleanest Energy Carrier always in compounds. Either in water with Oxygen or with Carbon in Hydrocarbons of which Methane happens to be the most stable option. 

Mobilizing Hydrogen from water, being one of the scarcest resources in our epoch characterized by melting glaciers under concurrent drawdown of groundwater levels, requires 150% electric energy of Hydrogen’s retrievable chemical (or caloric) Energy. If re-converted to electricity via “cold oxidation” in a state-of-the-art fuel cell, the Energy storage efficiency is about 40%. In case Hydrogen is used in the same place as produced, the Fuel Cell’s water excrement can be reintroduced into the local terrestrial circulation. But in case the two locations were apart each other, displacement of groundwater could lead to Soil Organic Carbon [SOC] respiration in the form of currently unaccounted CO2. Some analysis indicate a SOC: Water nexus of about 1.1t CO2 emissions per m3 groundwater drought-stress. 

Alternatively, Hydrogen can be mobilized from Hydrocarbon gases by physically stripping Carbon out, releasing pure Hydrogen. There are several processes around to do that more or less effectively with regards to CO2-neutral re-use of such derivable physical Carbon. Crystalline Carbon is Nature’s most versatile long shelf life hazard-free energy storing element – just remember, diamonds are forever! That’s actually where Carbotopia® team members had started from 25 years ago – but later less dense graphene-like crystallinities of Hydrogen energy’s Carbon package proved more versatile. Hence 2007 we published “Decarbonization by catalytic Carbon Capture for re-Use” in the Leibnitz Institute Journal. 

Producing Hydrogen and solid high specific surface homogeneously crystalline Carbon thermo- catalytically from Methane delivers about 50% of its calorific value in Hydrogen and 40% in Carbon. While burning or steam reforming Methane squanders the Carbon-wrapping of Hydrogen Energy into CO2, this sort of Methane carbonization releases Hydrogen under conservation of the Carbon Energy. Consequently, using it without throwing it away, always implying the destiny atmosphere, as if it was just a one-way package, allows to materialize its value. To make this tangible one must just envisage that each tonne of CO2 represents thrown away Carbon equivalent to 2.5barrel crude oil Carbon. 

Therefore Carbotopia® started broaching the issue of “Carbon Efficiency”. And to give an example for that, we presented at Hypothesis XIII conference in Singapore a model for reducing the state-city’s Carbon footprint by 33% for their 2030 energy demand projection. Switching power generation to putting the Hydrogen released from a Natural Gas Pyrolysis into Fuel Cell Utility showed equivalent power as Natural Gas Power from its combustion showed that the latter’s CO2 effluent represents just wasted energy in transformation efficiency inferiority. Using the NG-Pyrolysis Carbon yielded for an Aviation Fuel synthesis in the City-State’s production for the whole Asean region would save up to 2 liters crude oil per kilogram re-used Carbon. Such sector coupling could raise Carbon Efficiency 63%. 

In the DACH language area heavily biased by large Electrical OEM activities’ business greed in EU-27’s largest member state of course this isn’t considered sufficient. Therefore, we came up with another downstream re-use path for the Carbon, giving at least partial profiteering opportunity to electrolysis. Rather than recycling CO2 in Power-to-X, which represents a linear water dislocation we offer Carbon from Hydrogen production by Methane Pyrolysis for re-synthesizing Methane under needing only half the Hydrogen from Electrolysis and allowing to keep Water needed as well as Carbon used in locally closed terrestrial loops. Because to synthesize Methane we just need one Carbon monoxide and three Hydrogen molecules [CO + 3H2 → 1CH4 + 1H2O] by-producing 1 molecule of water. This reaction water can actually recover the water needed for transforming Carbon into “Water Gas” [C + H2O → CO + H2]. 

And this gets us back to the Energy Democratization for prosumers free choice for clean energy use! Along this path the energy storage efficiency of Methane re-synthesized off earlier Methane Pyrolysis Carbon would be above 60%. And the nicest aspect of this approach is that the storage infrastructure is already in place in the form of the Natural Gas grid. Maybe it would economically make most sense within energy communities, using the Hydrogen-Fuel Cell waste heat for district heating/cooling by leveraging temperatures with heat-pumps that could use a Fuel Cell Utility’s slip-stream independent from the local grid’s load capacity. Experiences with such CHP-Hydrogen Fuel Cell HVAC from Japan have demonstrated almost 60% total energy savings between households’ electricity plus heating bills. Since the Methane Pyrolysis Carbon is storable between seasons, this system would enable PV-roof house owners to produce their Methane demand for Pyrolysis Hydrogen in the winter season during excess electricity production of summer season. 

For electricity regimes still heavily depending on coal- (or nuclear) power back-up against New Renewable Electricity volatility such decentralized units could even produce beyond the local communities’ needs on demand by the grid to allow a faster phase-out above mentioned increasingly idling base-load infrastructures. This would bring citizens motivated to personally contribute towards a swift transition to sustainable energy systems in a position to even accelerate e.g. coal and nuclear phase-out. And instead of paying tariffs for the decarbonization of industries, like e.g. steel foundries, the money invested in the local energy community can provide long term energy security and might even pay a dividend from exports to the grid. Wouldn’t that be a fantastic alternative to the Austrian governing parties of the last 9 years socializing steel-production’s decarbonization at roughly €70/t of Hot Briquetted Iron [HBI] by Electrolysis Hydrogen Direct Reduction or Power-to-X CO2 neutralization? For comparison Germany’s steel industry seems to look at our 2007 proposed decarbonization option. “Tu Felix Austria” still driving infrastructure paternalism instead of seconding its democratization!                                                                                   

Stefan Petters

Carbotopia® Syndicate 

Stefan Petters is a double curriculum Semiconductor Physics & Informatics engineer and founder of @Carbotopia® Syndicate for a „World in Carbon Balance“ en-suite a life, full of Qualitative Growth Enterprise Developments from Technology as an ultimate entrepreneurial hike alike a K2 challenge (http://bit.ly/1stxIoII).

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