New research trends on gas and sustainability


A conference shows the manifold challenges of research on gas and sustainability in the Netherlands and Germany 

Participants at a session of the conference Gas Fuels Europe on 29 November 2013 in Brussels (Photo: EDGaR/J.-F. Auger) Participants at a session of the conference Gas Fuels Europe on 29 November 2013 in Brussels (Photo: EDGaR/J.-F. Auger)

Several researchers from the Netherlands and Germany went to Brussels to discuss recent advances pertaining to research on gas and sustainability at the conference Gas Fuels Europe on 29 November. The dominant theme of the discussion was about new gas quality. Besides, speakers addressed the economic and social aspects of gas, as well as what sustainable gas represents to the related chemical and electricity industries.

“New gases, old-time quality”

What will happen to quality with the advent of new gas? “Old-time gas quality may not fit modern world,” said Luc Rabou from ECN. “New gas may resemble old gas.” The composition of new gas may require to refer back to standards of a time when the diversity of gas was broader.

Natural gas has a composition that depends on its geographical origin. New gases are at least composed of methane and other components such as hydrogen and carbon dioxide. “Interchangeability of gases is not determined by heating value, but by the Wobbe index,” Mr Rabou pointed out.

 “There is a considerable drive towards the use of liquefied natural gas (LNG) as a fuel,” said Martin Seifert from the Swiss Association for Gas and Water. Several LNG terminals had been installed, are under the construction or planned along the European coastline. The location of gate terminals is one of the main drivers for the development of LNG.

Mr Seifert thinks that “small scale LNG will be the key to the future.” Markets are marine sector, mobility and industry and power segments. “You have to invest before you can harvest,” he said. Companies will have to install facilities, such as refueling stations, for the transmission of LNG up to users inland. Obstacles are the lack of standards and a homogeneous European regulation.

LNG has several advantages for heavy-duty vehicles and maritime shipping, according to Howard Levinsky from DNV KEMA. To enable the large-scale adoption of this fuel, it requires good fuel quality, because LNG is subject to variations in composition, density, heating value and trace components. Motors of trucks and boats have a performance that depends on fuel quality.

Gas appliances

The recent changes in the gas market “poses many challenges to many combustion applications, especially in the industrial sector,” said Jörg Leicher from the Gas- und Wärme- Institut Essen. “One consequence: constant gas quality at any given location in the grid can no longer be taken for granted.”

Mr Leicher notes that several industrial applications in metallurgy, glass, ceramics, etc., are sensitive to variation in gas quality. Therefore, he has been involved in a research project “aimed to identify sensitive industrial processes, assess possible consequences of changing fuel gas qualities and propose countermeasures.”

“There is no single solution!” he concluded. Mr Leicher means that engineers have to find tailored solution for each industrial plant that uses gas. Gas supplier can mitigate the consequences of the introduction of new gas quality on their costumers by introducing new measurement and control technology, in addition to informing their industrial consumer on the potential impact on their equipment. 

New gas qualities will affect the operation of gas appliances as well. Whether they are condensing boiler or combined heat and power appliances, the challenge will come from the new European energy labelling legislation of household appliances, said Holger Dörr from the Engler-Bunte-Institute of Karlsruhe Institute for Technology.

This legislation requires gas appliance to have a renewable termed part. For example, it can be a solar thermal input with a condensing boiler. Several manufacturing companies have developed and will launch on the market new fuel cells appliances, gas-driven heat pumps and condensing boilers. Mr Dörr underscored the need to introduce gas quality specifications in European product standards. 

From networks to households

European directives and national laws and ordinances regulate the gas infrastructure. These rules aimed ensure the availability of capacities, the security of supply and that there are network development plans. Joachim Müller-Kirchenbauer, from the Clausthal University of Technology, has modelled the gas network by incorporating a topology, scenarios and other variables.  

Mr Müller-Kirchenbauer’s model generate information on hydronic gas flows, as well as insights on infrastructure assessment and emergency analysis. The database contain data on pipe lines, compressor stations, underground storages, etc. The database will provide an instrument to assess the impact of any variable among the technical, economic and regulatory aspects of gas.  

Anton Janssen, from Liander, approached the technical challenges of the gas industry from an unusual angle. “What can we learn from the Inuit people?” he asked. Het brought forth the issue of energy consumption and, more particularly, the use of gas for the generation of electricity. 

“There are several solutions for the mismatch between electricity production and consumption,” he said. Power-to-gas is one of the available technologies that allow the conversion from electricity to gas. It may be possible to convert wind energy into gas instead of electricity. What would be the perception of these technologies from the users? What is the economic value of this system? 

The consumption of energy by household has been reduced over time in Germany. Dirk Müller, from E.ON Energy Research Center, expect houses of the future to be active in the generation of energy. “The usage of combined heat and power can lead to significant reductions in primary energy use,” he said. 

Houses equipped with combined heat power can achieve energy savings. They will be coupled with other renewable sources of energy, such as wind and solar, and being integrated at the local level. Mr Müller thinks that economic incentives should be given “for provision of balancing energy,” more exactly that “house owners should get a bonus which compensates at least the storage losses.” 

From the present to the future

Energy system had been operated, at least during the last half-century, on specialized grounds. Gas and electricity were operating on large-scale separately for the central provision of energy. Those of the future will be most likely integrated, according to Rolf Künneke from Delft University of Technology. They will be decentralized and small-scale. 

“How can gas help to meet these challenges?” Mr Künneke asked. He thinks that local energy systems of the future requires a specific coordination between the technical, economic and social components. Typical problems to solve are: “What can be left to the market?,” “What needs to be regulated?,” “What institutions are needed to safeguard a reliable energy supply?” Institutional arrangements will ultimately affect the overall system performance, Mr Künneke said. 

A good example of how energy will be provided in the future are biogas networks. Marcel Volkerts, from DNV GL, argued that serious gaming can generate insights about that future. Gasboard, a computer game, has been programmed “to explore the ways in which a society can develop its energy system,” Mr Volkerts explained. 

Thus far, playing Gasboard with participants has generated useful information on the behavior of the stakeholders and the customers of future biogas network. Besides, students can play the game to get basic training in the management and operation of future biogas networks. 

Gas and related industries

Germany, with its ambitious policy aimed at energy transition, has fixed several targets to achieve in the future. The country should increase the share of renewables in the energy mix. The stimulation of new renewable energy technologies has led to visible geographical discrepancies in the diffusion of wind, photovoltaic and biomass. 

It has also increased the share of renewables in the production of electricity, said Matthias Müller-Mienack from Elia Group and GridLab. “The clear message here is that we need flexibility,” he said. “The market design has to be changed.” 

Nuclear phasing out in Germany will not provide that flexibility. The federal government has made several regulations for transmission system operators. “Ancillary services must be ensured along the decarbonisation pathway,” he said. That includes, for example, services for congestion management and dispatch of electricity. 

Gert Müller-Syring from DBI spoke about establishing a European understanding of admissible hydrogen concentration in the gas grid. “Two energy carriers with strength and weakness are available,” he said. These are hydrogen and methane. Energy storage concepts have been explored. Mr Müller-Syring resumed by saying, “The goal is a sustainable, macroeconomic feasible and robust energy supply.” 

By Jean-François Auger