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ECN and TNO launch chemical industry electrification programme

19 Dec 2014

With more sustainable solar and wind energy being produced, there is a growing fluctuating element in the power supply in North West Europe. This presents a major opportunity for the chemical industry, which could not only reduce its energy costs but also make new high-quality products. ECN and TNO were recently awarded 2 million euros in grant aid to produce a number of demos for 2017.

TNO is looking into possibilities of modular and scalable production capacity

“The Netherlands’ Ministry of Economic Affairs and the chemical industry as a whole have asked ECN and TNO to set up a programme for the electrification of the chemical Industry,” explains TNO’s Martijn de Graaff. “It’s driven by current trends in the chemical industry and energy sector, such as relatively high energy costs, compared to the US for example. The industry has adopted a strategy of  strengthening clusters, such as the regions of Groningen and Rotterdam, and ensuring they remain competitive. This can be facilitated through the efficient use of energy, which is the speciality of ECN. A further option is the efficient production of special chemical products or the development of new chemical products that offer more added value, an area in which TNO is an authority.”

Fluctuations

More and more power is coming on stream from wind turbines and solar panels, which means more and more fluctuations. The power grid in the Netherlands and North West Europe is not prepared to handle such fluctuations, however. To some extent this can be overcome by means of battery technology. Another way is to use the energy immediately, and here the chemical industry, being one of the biggest industrial users in the Netherlands, is in a position to make use of it most quickly and easily. De Graaff explains: ‘The two aspects of the business context of this programme are storing energy and generating cheap electricity that the chemical industry can use. There are already developments that make this possible, but they haven’t yet been combined and integrated in the energy system and the energy production system.’

Three lines

'We are starting with three technical lines of research. First, we’re looking into how to use electrical power indirectly. ECN has expertise particularly in the area of heat pumps that use electricity to enhance low-pressure and temperature steam. That converts residual heat into valuable heat that can be used in a chemical process. Secondly, we’re working on the immediate use of electrical power. ECN, for instance, is working on electrolysis to produce hydrogen, a valuable raw material for the chemical industry. That’s a long-standing technology, but the question is whether it can be switched on and off when there’s a surplus or a shortfall, and whether we can produce an affordable system. Thirdly, we’re working on electrosynthesis, a technology that TNO has been involved in for some time. We’re looking at immediate production of raw materials for the chemical industry from CO2, for instance, and also at higher added-value conversions such as FDCA from HMF.’

Open invitation

De Graaff is clearly elated at the award of the grant. ‘ECN and TNO were awarded the grant because the Ministry of Economic Affairs and the Chemical Industry “top sector” believe that the programme has promise. We’re currently hard at work developing a road map. We shall be holding a meeting in the first quarter of 2015 to present it and to embark upon discussions with the industry. In the coming weeks and months we shall also be pro-actively contacting stakeholders such as chemical firms, suppliers and knowledge organizations to get them on board. It’s very important to generate support for a major development of this kind and to time it right. Organizations that decide to contribute knowledge, experience and funding will have a direct influence on the research and access to the results. They will be the front-runners and the first to benefit from the developments in due course. Do you want to join? Register now!’

Want to join this project?

Please contact Martijn de Graaff

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