Martijn de Graaff MSc
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Representatives from the electricity, chemical and equipment industry met in Rotterdam with TNO and ECN on May 28th. They exchanged views on the use of electricity as a sustainable energy source in the chemical sector. Amongst the results were solid project ideas and a roadmap to innovation and implementation.
One of the main challenges surrounding renewable energy is that supply is intermittent, i.e. little solar energy at night and lots of wind energy during a storm. The energy sector would benefit from chemical solutions that improve conversion, storage and transportation. And as a heavy user of energy, the chemical industry would benefit from lower energy costs and from the high-grade products that are the result of electrification.
By 2050, the Netherlands want to be acknowledged globally for its green and sustainable chemistry. This will require the chemical industry to figure out how to integrate sustainable energy into their processes. Gerard van Harten, chairman of Topsector Chemicals: “Nature uses CO2 and energy to build everything we know. If we can duplicate that, we have found our Holy Grail.” Prof. Paulien Herder from TU Delft and member of Topsector Energy called collaboration crucial to achieve integration of the different intermittent energy systems. “We also need projects and pilots that demonstrate to all of us what works.” Projects such as steam recompression at Dow, electrification of process steam at Avebe and flexible chlorine production at Akzo Nobel.
Three organisations then presented their electrification experiences. Grid operator Stedin has invested in a 40 million euro cable to transport wind energy to the province of Zeeland. A hydrogen conversion station will also be build there, as the versatile hydrogen is easier to transport. Stedin also participates in the Power to Gas plant that is being built in Delfzijl, which will convert wind energy into hydrogen and syngas for the chemical industry. ABB shared its experience in using electricity in upstream oil and gas and stressed that control systems are essential in the furthering of electrification. Eric Appelman from Perstorp expressed his strong beliefs in the electrochemical production of chemicals. “Not because of the price of electricity or lack of fossil feedstock, but because it is more cost efficient, makes optimal use of resources and produces less waste.”
Rob Kreiter from ECN then outlined the TNO/ECN-roadmap to widespread implementation of electrification. With the new insights as a result of this roadmap, the participants split up into smaller groups to focus on system-integration, power-2-heat, power-2-hydrogen and power-2-chemicals. The breakout sessions have resulted in several promising project ideas that will be further developed for start in August.
TNO Director Arij van Berkel concluded that the day had clarified the level of ambition. It is high, in a rapidly changing time. “Electrification of the chemical industry is like eating an elephant,” said Van Berkel. “We have to do it piece by piece.” An initial roadmap to innovation and implementation has been drafted. Before the summer holidays, TNO and ECN will send out a list of projects for parties to participate in.
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