It takes millions of years to create what the oil and gas industry calls natural gas, thousands of feet deep down in the earth — or just a few seconds, next to a wind turbine.
Based on the plans of an Austrian-German team of scientists, renewable energy producers should soon be able to generate synthetic “natural gas” from their wind and solar parks.
Up to now renewable energies like wind and solar always faced an inherent problem: storage. How to store excess energy when the wind was blowing hard and the sun was producing more energy than the grid was able to use. Batteries are not a storage option for large systems.
Austrian and German scientists from several institutes, including the well-known Fraunhofer Institute, solved the storage problem by creating something that could be called “wind gas” or “solar gas” if you prefer, by combining electrolysis and methanization.
Here is how: First, the excess wind or solar energy is used to power a hydrogen electrolysis plant, splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen.
The hydrogen is then combined with carbon-dioxide (CO2) in a methanization chamber. Their reaction produces methane, the main component of natural gas.
The excess wind and solar energy turned natural gas can then be stored in the existing natural gas grid and used as needed. German automaker Audi has already expressed an interest in the technology and agreed to help finance the construction of a 6.3 megawatt gas plant that is scheduled to be ready to turn excess renewable energy into “wind gas” by 2013. Audi expects to eventually power their gas-motor-powered cars with synthetic gas.
Germany plans to satisfy almost 40 percent of its energy demands with renewable sources by 2020. This viable energy storage solution will play a significant role in achieving that goal.