TUM – Technical University of Munich Menu
Wind turbines, solar modules and hydrogen storage systems
Facilities that combine electricity and hydrogen production are particularly profitable. (Image: iStock.com / Petmal)
  • Research news

Economists map out economically viable path to renewables-based hydrogen productionHow power-to-gas technology can be green and profitable

Hydrogen production based on wind power can already be commercially viable today. Until now, it was generally assumed that this environmentally friendly power-to-gas technology could not be implemented profitably. Economists at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), the University of Mannheim and Stanford University have now described, based on the market situations in Germany and Texas, how flexible production facilities could make this technology a key component in the transition of the energy system.

From fertilizer production, as a coolant for power stations or in fuel cells for cars: Hydrogen is a highly versatile gas. Today, most hydrogen for industrial applications is produced using fossil fuels, above all with natural gas and coal. In an environmentally friendly energy system, however, hydrogen could play a different role: as an important storage medium and a means of balancing power distribution networks: excess wind and solar energy can be used to produce hydrogen through water electrolysis. This process is known as power-to-gas. The hydrogen can recover the energy later, for example by generating power and heat in fuel cells, blending hydrogen into the natural gas pipeline network or converted into synthesis gas.

"Should I sell the energy or convert it?"

However, power-to-gas technology has always been seen as non-competitive. Gunther Glenk of the Chair of Management Accounting at TUM and Prof. Stefan Reichelstein, a researcher at the University of Mannheim and Stanford University, have now completed an analysis demonstrating the feasibility of zero-emission and profitable hydrogen production. Their study, published in the renowned journal Nature Energy, shows that one factor is essential in the current market environments in Germany and Texas:

The concept requires facilities that can be used both to feed power into the grid and to produce hydrogen. These combined systems, which are not yet in common use, must respond optimally to the wide fluctuations in wind power output and prices in power markets. "The operator can decide at any time: should I sell the energy or convert it," explains Stefan Reichelstein.

Production in some industries would already be profitable

In Germany and Texas, up to certain production output levels, such facilities could already produce hydrogen at costs competitive with facilities using fossil fuels. In Germany, however, the price granted by the government would have to be paid for the generation of electric power instead for feeding it into the grid.

"For medium and small-scale production, these facilities would already be profitable now," says Reichelstein. Production on that scale is appropriate for the metal and electronics industries, for example – or for powering a fleet of forklift trucks on a factory site. The economists predict that the process will also be competitive in large-scale production by 2030, for example for refineries, ammonia production, assuming that wind power and electrolyte costs maintain the downward trajectory seen in recent years. “The use in fuel cells for trucks and ships is also conceivable”, says Glenk.

Energy sources for intelligent infrastructure

The economists' model offers a planning blueprint for industry and energy policy. It can take into account many other factors, such as charges for carbon emissions, and calculate optimal sizing of the two sub-systems. It is also applicable to other countries and regions.

"Power-to-gas offers new business models for companies in various industries," says Glenk. "Power utilities can become hydrogen suppliers for industry. Manufacturers, meanwhile, can get involved in the decentralized power generation business with their own combined facilities. In that way, we can develop a climate-friendly and intelligent infrastructure that optimally links power generation, production and transport."

Publication:

G. Glenk, S. Reichelstein: Economics of converting renewable power to hydrogen. Nature Energy, 2019. DOI: 10.1038/s41560-019-0326-1

More information:

Gunther Glenk conducts research at the Center for Energy Markets of the TUM School of Management. The study was supported by the Hanns-Seidel-Stiftung with funding from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research.

Contact:

Gunther Glenk, M.Sc.
Technical University of Munich (TUM)
Chair of Management Accounting
Tel: +49 89 289 22798 (Press Office)
gunther.glenk(at)tum.de

Corporate Communications Center

Technical University of Munich Klaus Becker
klaus.becker(at)tum.de

Article at tum.de

Solarmodule und Windkrafträder

Public-sector research boosts cleantech start-ups

Cleantech start-ups in the USA that cooperate with government research agencies outperform their competitors both in terms of patents and funding. That is the conclusion of a study by the Technical University of Munich...

Das geothermische Potenzial in München, bei Nutzung einer Grundwasser-Wärmepumpe.

A treasure map for the energy revolution

Near-surface geothermal energy could cover a large portion of our energy requirements. Nevertheless, this regenerative energy source is not used optimally. In order to change that, scientists in the EU project GRETA...

Electric heating could save CO2 emissions

The dependence of renewable energy generation on the time of day and the seasons is one of the biggest challenges for the transition to a sustainable energy model. A new study by a scientist at the Technical University of...

Dominik Pélerin beim Test am Vollmotor-Prüfstand.

On the road to a clean combustion engine

Emissions-free combustion engine cars – synthetic fuels like oxymethylene ether are bringing the idea into the realm of the conceivable. Researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have tested how this kind of...

Im Windkanal lassen sich die Wechselwirkungen zwischen Windkraftanlagen mit Hilfe von Modellen erforschen.

Wind turbines: It’s a group effort

Often hundreds of rotors can be installed in a typical wind farm. A little known fact, however, is that the shadowing caused by the wind turbine rotors impacts the performance of neighboring turbines and reduces their...

Eine Glaskeramik-Membran, die mit Aluminium und Kunststoff beschichtet ist, lässt nur Lithium-Ionen durch. Für alle anderen Bestandteile der Elektrolytflüssigkeit ist sie undurchlässig – Foto: Monika Weiner / TUM

Battery research reaching out to higher voltages

For years, small rechargeable lithium-ion batteries have reliably supplied billions of portable devices with energy. But manufacturers of high-energy applications such as electric cars and power storage systems seek for new...

Eine Kupferschicht unter der Oberfläche verleiht dem Platin-Katalysator eine deutlich höhere Aktivität und eine längere Lebensdauer – Bild: Federico Calle Vallejo / Univ. Leiden

Efficiency of water electrolysis doubled

Water electrolysis has not yet established itself as a method for the production of hydrogen. Too much energy is lost in the process. With a trick researchers of the Technical University of Munich (TUM), the Ruhr University...

Rastertunnelmikroskopisches Bild des Netzwerks aus mit Melamin verknüpften Terrylendiimidmolekülen; rechts eingeblendet: Modell der atomaren Struktur – Bild: C. A. Palma / TUM

Molecular architectures see the light

Organic photovoltaics bear great potential for large-scale, cost-effective solar power generation. One challenge to be surmounted is the poor ordering of the thin layers on top of the electrodes. Utilizing self-assembly on...

Forschungsproduktionsanlage für Lithium-Ionen-Zellen

Asian inventions dominate energy storage systems

In recent years, the number of patent applications for electrochemical energy storage technologies has soared. According to a study by the Technische Universität München (TUM), the largest volume of applications by far is...