As renewable energy sources penetrate in the energy market, there is often a mismatch between energy production and demand. There are for example hours when there is enough wind for wind turbine plants to produce electricity, but at the same time households and industry do not need to consume the exact amount of energy that is produced. Either due to technical measures or market regulations, a considerable amount of energy is wasted or in other words "curtailed". In Germany, curtailment energy in 2017 reached a total of 5,518 GWh, while in 2016 3,743 GWh were curtailed.
The use of CO2-derived methanol (E-fuel) has multiple applications varying from fuels, to chemicals, to plastics but also direct use in the electricity, heat and transport sector for blending or production of fuels. No matter if methanol produced from recycled CO2 is used for plastics, chemicals or it is burnt, it contributes to a sustainable renewable fuel production, which has no competition with food crops and which uses "otherwise wasted" energy. Its combustion releases CO2 into the air, but because it is recaptured, not only the process is a closed loop but additional emissions from fossil methanol imports are avoided. Compared to gasoline or diesel a carbon reduction of more than 50% can be achieved with less particulates and no sulphur emissions, leading to cleaner air environment in rural areas.
E-fuels can be the next step in the energy evolution supporting a renewable energy roadmap in Europe. MefCO₂ is a pioneering project that supports a global value chain of renewable energy applications. Within the project, the currently largest flue gas CO2-derived methanol synthesis plant in the European Union is erected. The only larger plant in Europe is the George Olah Plant in Iceland using geothermal CO2 emissions. Energy solution provider Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems Europe GmbH is responsible for integration of innovative technologies. The outdoor installation of the MefCO₂ plant at Niederaussem in Germany presents several advantages in terms of sufficient space, easy access for erection and operation of the plant. In addition, an existing CO2 capture and compression plant operated since 2009 by RWE allows the provision of high purity CO2 to the methanol unit. The plant is designed for flexible operation in different loads, while its nominal capacity is 1 ton of pure methanol per day. A very good example showing the potential of MefCO₂ applications is the comparison of the existing site in Niederaussem with Germany’s curtailed energy in 2017. Even if half of this amount of energy could be used, around three 100 MWel power to methanol plants could already have commercial application in Germany. This amounts more than 200 times the MefCO₂ capacity today and is only based on the curtailed energy of one Member State. There are several Gigawatt hours today and a growing number in future, which could be efficiently converted to methanol and other derivatives in all Member States!
Except from engineering new ideas, developing and integrating new technologies for the energy transition challenges, MefCO₂ embraces 9 partners from 7 different countries with multi-cultural cooperation between industry and academia, with knowledge dissemination to the next generation of young engineers.
Dr. Efthymia Ioanna Koytsoumpa,
Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems Europe GmbH