Research project aims to “liquefy” electric energy

November 24, 2016 // By Christoph Hammerschmidt
In the future, wind and solar power are supposed to replace conventional forms of electric energy generation. The challenge: Whereas the energy production of conventional coal, oil or nuclear power plants can be controlled, the renewables greatly depend on factors that cannot be controlled such as solar radiation or wind speed. To stabilize the energy generation, researchers in the project Power-to-X (P2X) are investigating novel ways to store the energy temporarily.

The idea is to develop technologies that enable operators of wind turbines and solar power plants to convert the surplus electric energy into gaseous energy sources such as, for example, hydrogen or other chemical raw materials by means of electrochemical processes. These energy carriers could then be stored or converted to fuels or chemical products. Such P2X could make a pivotal contribution to the energy system transformation. The P2X project therefore is to bring new technologies to industrial maturity within the next ten years.

 

Involved in the project are a total of 17 research institutions, 26 commercial enterprises and three NGOs. One of the research institutes is the Helmholtz Zentrum Berlin (HZB), dedicated to materials research. With its recently opened laboratory complex EMIL@BESSY II, it offers unique synthesis and analytics tools including the X-ray radiation from the BESSY II synchrotron. “Within the project, we will be able to use the multiple and complementary analysis possibilities in the EMIL laboratory to investigate the chemical and electronic properties of the catalyzers developed by the project partners”, explains professor Marcus Bär who coordinates the P2X activities at the HZB.

The focus will be on the way catalyzer materials in electrolytes will change under real-world working conditions. This is a decisive aspect because the catalytic active species frequently will be generated only during operation. Their stability determines the ageing process and thus the lifetime of the electrolyzer.

The RWTH Aachen university, the Forschungszentrum Jülich research center and the DECHEMA, a German non-profit organization dedicated to chemistry jointly are coordinating the PX2 project. It is funded in part by the German federal ministry of education and research (BMBF) with €30 million. In addition, industrial partners contribute research services worth €8.3 million.