May 17, 2020

Renewable Natural Gas: The Next Great Renewable Fuel

energy digital
HyperSolar
renewable natural gas
natural g
Admin
3 min
energy digital, HyperSolar, renewable natural gas, natural gas, fracking, hydraulic fracturing, Tim Young, renewable fuel, renewable energy, alternative fuels, clean water, wastewater, nanotechnology,
As a result of an exponentially rising population and industrialization around the world, the demand for global energy is expected to double by 2050...

 

As a result of an exponentially rising population and industrialization around the world, the demand for global energy is expected to double by 2050. While fossil fuels will continue to meet the majority of those energy needs for a long time, crude oil supplies are limited and pose unprecedented environmental risks. And while many claim America's booming natural gas industry will be the holy grail in alleviating a tightening market, public skepticism is mounting regarding the unforeseen costs of the methods used in obtaining those sources.

 

Hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” for natural gas is not only pointed to for contaminating crucial aquifers, but also as a highly likely cause of minor to medium scale earthquakes (thus far at least). However, the natural gas industry has the most potential to meet a fast approaching future energy crisis, increasing domestic energy security in a way that's slightly more environmental than extracting petroleum. Until renewables are able to make a significant dent in the global energy market, natural gas will continue to serve as one of the most important transitional variables in reaching a greener energy future.

 

But what if natural gas could come in a form that is renewable, safe and inexpensive? Researchers at HyperSolar believe they have found the answer that could potentially revolutionize the industry.

 

RENEWABLE NATURAL GAS

Using solar to react with wastewater and carbon dioxide, HyperSolar has developed a photochemical reaction that mimics photosynthesis to produce renewable natural gas safely (above ground) and, more importantly, cost-effectively.

 

“We need a renewable fuel that is environmentally clean,” says Tim Young, CEO of HyperSolar. “But before you can start, you must ask first and foremost, 'what form of renewable fuel can be economically produced?' The beauty of this project is that we're starting with commercialization in mind.”

 

The process requires sunlight, water, carbon dioxide and a slurry reactor, or vessel resembling a large baggy for lack of more elegant language. When wastewater enters the slurry reactor housing thousands of nanoparticles, hydrogen is produced through a photochemical process that is then reacted with carbon dioxide to create methane or natural gas. Instead of using expensive pure water, the process utilizes waste streams from industrial facilities, simultaneously detoxifying wastewater containing organic molecules of all kinds to produce molecular hydrogen and clean water. The nanoparticles can be programmed to react with different forms of wastewater and the reaction takes place at a low voltage, requiring minimal solar power.

 

“There are two forces working together that make this a very attractive proposition in terms of energy,” says Young. “Not only are we able to produce a cost-effective renewable form of energy, but also clean water in the process.”

 

After HyperSolar completes a series of pilot programs over the next several months, Young believes the technology has the potential to have a significant impact on the industry in the near future as “the only form of solar energy that may prove to be truly cost effective will come in a chemical form—hydrogen,” concludes Young. “And since the infrastructure of the natural gas pipeline is already in place, natural gas is the most logical way to go.”

 

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Jul 28, 2021

Industry movement with heat decarbonisation

Gas
Renewables
Heatnetworks
Decarbonisation
Dominic Ellis
6 min
As SGN and Vital Energi announce 50:50 joint venture, the heat decarbonisation market is seeing some welcome movement

It is estimated that the heat network market requires approximately £30 billion of investment by 2050 to meet the UK Government’s net zero targets, and the decarbonisation of heat has been highlighted as a particular challenge.

The Climate Change Committee’s Sixth Carbon Budget states the UK should target 20% of UK heat demand through low-carbon heat networks by 2050 - but as with most discussions surrounding mass decarbonisation, even reaching that target won't be an easy task. In the UK approximately 40% of energy consumption and 20% of GHG emissions are due to the heating and hot water supply for buildings.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimate that globally, around half of all energy consumption is used for providing heat, mainly for homes and industry.

Source: Heat Trust

This week saw some positive movement, however, with gas distribution company SGN and UK renewable energy solutions provider Vital Energi announcing a 50:50 joint venture, which will create an Energy Services Company (ESCO) representing utility infrastructure and heat network providers. 

This includes delivery of heat to developments planned by SGN’s property arm, SGN Place, and the local vicinities where there is a demand for low-carbon heat.

The objective is to supply new and existing residential, industrial and commercial facilities and development activity is already underway for two projects in Scotland and the South East, with another 20 in the pipeline. SGN is looking to develop alternative heat solutions alongside its core gas distribution business and expand into the growing district heating market, recognising the future of heat is likely to include a mix of technological solutions and energy sources.

Vital Energi is seeking to expand into asset ownership opportunities to complement its core design, build and operations businesses. The complementary skillsets of both organisations will offer a compelling proposition for developers, commercial and industrial users and public sector bodies seeking low-carbon heat solutions.

SGN’s Director of Commercial Services and Investments Marcus Hunt said: “Heat networks are likely to play an increasing role in the delivery of UK heat in the context of net zero. The creation of this joint venture with market-leading Vital Energi enables us to build a presence in this emerging market, delivering new heat infrastructure and supporting decarbonisation.”

Nick Gosling, Chief Strategy Officer at Vital Energi, said: “Combining the resources, expertise and know-how of both organisations will allow us to play a major role in delivering the UK’s transition to low and zero-carbon heat.”

In March, the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) starting collaborating with Highlands and Islands Airports Limited (HIAL) to decarbonise heat and power at Kirkwall Airport through green hydrogen technology. 2G Energy was selected to deliver a CHP plant which generates heat and electricity from 100% hydrogen.

Heat decarbonisation options 

The Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) highlights the following options for decarbonising heating. 

Electrification

Use renewable electricity to generate heat in the home. As power sector emissions fall, emissions associated with electric heating are decreasing rapidly.

Low carbon gases

Replace natural gas that most homes use for heating with hydrogen, which releases energy but not carbon dioxide, the only waste product is water. Biomethane is also an option as it produces less carbon than natural gas over a full lifecycle.

For hydrogen to work, the pipes in the national gas grid would need to be replaced and home boilers would need to be adapted or changed. This is possible but could incur considerable cost. 

Biomethane is chemically identical to methane from natural gas, so is suited to existing infrastructure and appliances. It is unlikely, however, that it can be produced in sufficient quantities to replace fossil gas entirely.

Hybrids

A hybrid system combining both electrification and hydrogen is a third option. Here, heat pumps could be used to meet the majority of heat demand, with a (low carbon) gas boiler taking over in extremely cold weather. Advantages of this approach include helping establish a market for heat pumps while hydrogen is developed to displace natural gas in the hybrid system eventually, and the ability to call on hydrogen when heat demand is at its very highest.

Heat networks

Heat networks connect a central heat source to a number of buildings via a series of underground hot water pipes, and are popular in countries such as Denmark, where heat networks supply 63% of households. The Government expects the heat networks market in the UK to grow quickly to supply up to 20% of heat demand over the next decade or so, investing £320 million into its flagship Heat Networks Investment Project to help get this underway.

Heat networks work particularly well in built-up urban areas or industrial clusters where there is a large and concentrated demand for heat. Over time, it is thought that if the central heat source can be low carbon, then there is the opportunity to ensure that multiple homes and buildings are decarbonised at once.

Biomass

Biomass can be used to reduce emissions when used instead of more polluting fuels like oil in off gas grid properties. Support for biomass boilers has been available since 2011 via the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), but take-up has been low.

Supply constraints also restrict the role that biomass – burning solid material such as wood – can play. In any case, according to the Committee on Climate Change, this resource may be better used in other sectors of the economy such as construction, where it provides carbon storage without the need for CCS and reduces demand for carbon-intensive materials such as steel and cement.

The Energy Transitions Commission (ETC)'s latest report sets out how rapidly increasing demand for bioresources could outstrip sustainable supply, undermining climate mitigation efforts and harming biodiversity, unless alternative zero-carbon options are rapidly scaled-up and use of bioresources carefully prioritised.

"Alternative zero-carbon solutions, such as clean electrification or hydrogen, must be developed rapidly to lessen the need for bio-based solutions," it states.

The overall decarbonisation of industry is another major challenge, especially among four sectors that contribute 45 percent of CO2 emissions: cement, steel, ammonia, and ethylene, according to a McKinsey report. 

The process demands reimagining production processes from scratch and redesigning existing sites with costly rebuilds or retrofits. Furthermore, companies that adopt low-carbon production processes will see a short- to mid-term increase in cost, ultimately placing them at an economic disadvantage in a competitive global commodities market.

Next steps

Ken Hunnisett is Project Director for the Heat Network Investment Project (HNIP)’s delivery partner Triple Point, which is the delivery partner for the government's Heat Network Investment Project, which is responsible for investing up to £320million in strategic, low-carbon heat network projects across England and Wales.

He is calling for the urgent need to invest in the development of new heating infrastructure to support the nation’s decarbonisation effort. So far £165m of HNIP funds have prompted £421m CAPEX, providing more green jobs as the UK economy eases from the lows sustained from the pandemic.  

Decarbonising the UK's heating infrastructure is critical if we are to reach our net-zero goals and it’s crucial that progress is made in this decisive decade, he added. 

"Heat networks are a part of the lowest-cost pathway to decarbonising our homes and workplaces in the future but are also the bit of the jigsaw that we can be putting into place now," he said. "Penetration into the UK market is still low, despite heat representing 37% of UK greenhouse gas emissions, the largest single contributor by some way. Funding needs to be urgently directed towards reducing the environmental impact of the residential sector, particularly given the slow pace of the decline in residential emissions in comparison to those of business and transport."

Currently, just 3% of UK buildings are serviced by heat networks. "Further investment in this industry, using public and private funds, will not only drive wider sustainability targets but will boost the economy by providing more green jobs as the country emerges from the pandemic," he said.

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