Towards Energy convergence
In a context of mounting pressure on the climate and growing geopolitical concerns, the energy transition is gathering pace. The convergence of renewable energy sources and storage technologies will be the key to such a transition towards a more sustainable and integrated energy strategy.
This convergence must rely on one or several energy vectors, to be able to store and convert energy, optimising the production from various renewable energy sources, while satisfying the demand in all points of the country, at all times.
Several studies bet on methane (see the négaWatt scenario for France) and/or hydrogen (cf. the third industrial revolution from Jeremy Rifkin) as the main energy vectors in the long term, both being often mainly produced from biomass (wood energy and biogas) in these scenarii. Our partners from the Chamber of Commerce and the Chambers of Agriculture also share this view, with the third industrial and agricultural revolution project, translating Jeremy Rifkin's vision on the Pays de la Loire region.
From an industrial point of view, this convergence is already happening in some domains (as shown by some exhibitors), and significant efforts are currently being undertaken to overcome the remaining techno-economic barriers in the near future. In any case, this is a clear trend, which is becoming a reality in several regions of the world, and is gathering momentum, offering fascinating opportunities for collaboration between the three sectors of biogas, wood energy and hydrogen / fuel cells.
With this vision in mind, BEES built a platform of 3 events covering these three overlapping topics, in Nantes, March 2015 :
The synergies between these three sectors are detailed below.
Synergies between Biogas and Wood energy
Wood energy and biogas both draw their resources from the ground, the primary sources being forestry and agriculture, and this naturally creates convergence points in the supply chain. Agriculture not only produces waste streams, which can be converted to biogas, but also solid fuels, which can be burnt directly.
Convergence can also be found in the utilisation of energy coming from biogas or wood heating facilities. Residual heat from biogas cogeneration units can be used to dry solid biomass, and district heating networks can be supplied by both biogas cogeneration and wood boilers. Parallelism for key service providers such as finance, insurance and project developers also provides cross-over opportunities between the two value chains.
Moreover, several companies historically active in wood energy are now extending their portfolio towards the biogas community, and vice versa. Therefore, the organisation of Biogaz Europe and the Salon Bois Energie in parallel makes sense, not only in terms of exhibitors, but also in terms of visitors from the agricultural sector, local authorities and industrial companies.
Synergies between Biogas and Hydrogen / Fuel cells
Hydrogen can be produced by various means, including from biomass (biogas and wood energy). This potential is outlined by the ADEME hydrogen roadmap, which mentions it in its 4 scenarii, as well as the more recent French parliamentary report :
- "As part of their various missions in France and Japan, the editors [of this report] have had the opportunity to witness a flurry of hydrogen production technologies, such as [...] adding micro-organisms to increase the share of hydrogen in biogas"
- "The editors consider [...] that these well tested hydrogen production processes are perfectly viable, as they allow processing of carbonated renewable sources, such as biomethane, coming from domestic or agricultural waste"
Among demonstration projects, a significant step on an international level is the French VabHyogaz project at the TRIFYL domestic waste facility, converting biogas into hydrogen.
Moreover, fuel cell technologies, traditionally linked to hydrogen, can in some cases be adapted to methane (via reforming, or high temperature cells). Significant efforts are made to develop this alternative for a high electrical efficiency cogeneration, highly anticipated from the sector, because of difficulties in otherwise finding proper uses for the surplus heat.
Finally, another possible link between these two universes lies in "power to gas" projects (i.e. coupling gas and power network, read the article by The Guardian). It is indeed possible to produce hydrogen from excess renewable electricity (through electrolysis), and then convert this hydrogen into methane in order to store it in large amounts in the existing gas distribution network. This methanation process requires a concentrated CO2 source, which can come from a biogas unit.
Synergies between Wood energy and Hydrogen / Fuel cells
Similarly to biogas, it is technically feasible to produce hydrogen from solid biomass, through the gasification process. Demonstration projects are currently exploring the potential for both small-scale (cf. ValorPAC project) and large-scale units (cf. Blue Tower project)
This potential is also mentioned by the ADEME hydrogen roadmap, as well as the parliamentary report