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An interesting Fourth Research Day

2012-04-20

The Fourth Research Day has revealed some challenges pertaining to gas quality, the future of the gas system and the coordination with electricity system

Jürgen Lenz, vice-president of the DVGW, addressed the audience in Hilversum on 19 April 2012 (Photo: D. van Dijk-Jonkman) Jürgen Lenz, vice-president of the DVGW, addressed the audience in Hilversum on 19 April 2012 (Photo: D. van Dijk-Jonkman)

Innovations in Germany

Germany has taken the lead in matter pertaining to energy technologies. The gas industry participates to the current transformation. Gas will be complementary to renewable sources of energy that the German government currently support for the production of electricity, notably to get rid of nuclear energy. "Gas will play a major role for the overall energy supply system," argued Jürgen Lenz, vice-president gas of the Deutscher Verein des Gas- und Wasserfaches.

The new renewable sources of energy pose the problem of energy storage, because their supply cannot match the demand pattern. Gas offers interesting solution in this respect. Current technological development let to think that energy can be stored under the energy that some chemical processes liberate.

The technology behind gas quality

Technological developments are ongoing to facilitate the advent of new gas quality. One area of concern lays in the measurement of the gas, in order to determine if it can be carried into the allowed Wobbe bandwidth, a standard for gas quality. There will be most likely an increase in green gas or biomethane in the future. Biomethane con-tains several trace components. Siloxane, given the problem it causes, remains the most important. Erik Polman, a senior consultant from Kiwa, argued for the standardization of measurement technologies given their broad diversification.

Another technological point linked with gas quality is on the materials used in the gas industry. Most of the pipelines, joints, pumps, reservoirs and the like were designed in the Netherlands to handle one gas quality coming from Groningen. "Are the most common used materials resistant against new gases?" asked Rene Hermkens, a project manager from Kiwa. Experimental researches are now measuring the impact of the various compo-nents that gas contains — such as water, carbon dioxide and oxygen — on the most used materials such as polyvinylchloride, steel, cupper, etc. These measurements will be important for assets manager and for the maintenance of the equipment.

Some motors can run on gas, but can they run on all the new gases. We know that variations in the gas chemical composition affect the combustion properties in the motor. The question is therefore to know if the motor can resist knocks produced dur-ing the combustion cycle. A new experimentally tested method to classify gaseous fuels for knock resistance has been developed by Sander Gersen, Gerco van Dijk and Howard Levinsky, researchers at DNV KEMA. This method is based on autoignition delay times of the ends gas in the motor’s cylinder.

Which future for the gas infrastructure?

Several assets managers ask themselves this question. One of the ways to solve the problem consists of drawing scenarios. They detail the possible outcomes in the future and their impact on a given human activity. During the conference, participants were invited to explore the consequences of unlikely but high-impact events on the future gas system. This original interactive workshop has been organized by Kas Hemmes, Eefje Cuppen, Jaco Quist en Udo Pesch, from Delft University of Technology.

Several propositions had been putted on the table for group discussion. "Energy conservation is the new social norm and leads to a strong reduction of gas demand." "The all-electric society is a fact: all the houses and offices are only connected to the mains." "Shale gas is prohibited in the EU." It was not about deciding the truth or the likeliness of these propositions. Instead, participants unfolded the chain of consequences of each of these. The results of this workshop generated empirical data for further analysis on the future of the gas infrastructure. (The workshop has an online sequel in Dutch.)

At the junction of gas and electricity

In the Netherlands, half of the electricity generation comes from gas-powered plants. More renewable energies will be added up into the portfolio in the coming decades. This will require thinking about the combination between the gas and electricity networks , according to Anton Jansson, an asset manager at Alliander. Gas allows some flexibility to react to the fluctuation of electricity demand. Moreover, technological development promises to facilitate energy storage: when renewable energy will exceed the demand of electricity, the exceeding power can be converted to gas, later to be used to generate electricity.

The flexibility of the network, quick responses to variations in energy demand, can be achieved with computer-based management systems. With the growing decentralization of energy production, smart technologies can contribute, not only the management of the grid, but also to new economic activities. Flexibility has been investigated by a team of the University of Groningen, composed of George Huitema, Nick Szirbik, Hans Wortmann, Ashwin Ittoo and Austin Dzousa. They are modeling new network configurations, which will be later use to create serious games. They hope to come up with insights about how investments will be made for the deployment of these new systems.

A whole research program is also devoted to the flexibility of biogas. The production of biogas will be made on a rather decentralized fashion, by comparison to the current gas transport and distribution grid. Hence the program Flexigas examines the various dimensions of the situation, according to Johan Boekema, a strategic advisor at TNO. Researchers investigate the whole architecture of the biogas production chain: this range from the supplier of biomaterial up to the end-users, via the producers and distributors of biogas. The complexity of the biogas production chain can be understood via computer modeling, which computes the outcome of any give network combination, in search for the optimization of economic and natural resources.

By Jean-François Auger