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Flexible on input and output
Flexible in the use of fuels and in the energy output – that is how power plants are intended to supplement the energy system in future. Ideally, these will not only produce electricity and heat in accordance with demands but will also absorb surplus renewable electricity for intermediate storage, for example in order to produce synthetic fuels for vehicles. To ensure that such power plants are more profitable and efficient, a joint project is currently working on a specific aspect in the process: the gasifier, which until now has almost been a “black box” in terms of power plant research.
Instead of using natural gas, combined cycle power plants with upstream gasification process coal or biomass. Gas is first of all generated from the solid fuels in a gasifier. The processes and the behaviour of the individual materials have not been sufficiently researched until now. Using measurements and tests, a research group headed by the Technische Universität München is developing simulation models in order to better understand the processes.
This type of power plant is known as an integrated gasification combined cycle plant (IGCC). IGCC power plants are flexible in their use of fuel, have a high efficiency and can effectively capture CO2.
IGCC power plants are ideal for flexible operation
"Compared with other coal-fired power plants, IGCC power plants currently have certain disadvantages, in particular their lower availability and the higher costs caused by the gasification. However, this technology is the most suitable for flexible operation," says Prof. Dr. Hartmut Spliethoff from the Department of Energy Systems at the Technische Universität München in estimating the technology. The power plants generate not only electricity or heat but can also be used in low-consumption periods for producing basic materials for the chemical industry such as hydrogen and methane.
As this research project shows, this technology offers synergy effects in combination with other processes. One example is the intermediate storage of surplus electricity from renewable energies. If the IGCC power plant is not required for producing electricity and heat it can be used for producing hydrogen-based fuel.
Spliethoff believes that coal will continue to play a role in the energy mix: "Because of the import dependence on individual supply countries, we should not rely solely on gas-fired power plants." Although no IGCC power plants are currently in operation in Germany.
The research consortium estimates that IGCC power plants without CO2 capture will be built in eight years with an electrical efficiency of around 50 per cent. By further optimising the individual components, they believe that an electrical efficiency of 55 per cent can be achieved in 15 years.
The research consortium for the “High-temperature gasification and gas purification” project, called HotVeGas for short, is being funded by the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology. It forms part of the research on CO2 reduction technologies (COORETEC). Further details on the HotVeGas project can be found at KraftwerkForschung.info.