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Energy Energy Solar

The transition to an electrochemical society

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by: Moon Apple
The transition to an electrochemical society

Interview with Wiebren de Jong, professor of Large Scale Energy Storage Delf (Netherlands).
The problem with solar and wind energy is that it does not always blow. And the sun does not always shine at all. This is why PowerSwitch spoke with the TU Delft professor Wiebren de Jong about his search for the best way to store energy on a large scale: in chemical connections, that is.
Test setups in the De Jong laboratory tubes and machines

Test setup in the De Jong laboratory

Recently, EuroStat, the statistical office of the European Union, published figures on the share of renewable energy that Member States use. The Netherlands is just above Luxembourg on the penultimate spot ...
That something has to change is now clear. This had to be done according to the agreements made by the Netherlands in 2015 in Paris. But after the earthquake at the Groningse Zeerijp of eight January - the result of the decades of gas extraction in the area - the bullet is through the church: the gas tap is closing, though gradually. This gives us the choice: will we continue to burn fossil fuels, which we will then have to import? Or are we switching to sustainable energy?

Periods of surplus

'The Netherlands has the best opportunities to generate sufficient sustainable energy', says Wiebren de Jong, Professor of Large Scale Energy Storage at TU Delft. 'We are pretty good at technology for constructing large offshore wind farms. Solar energy will also increase, think of the sun terraces in Groningen and on Ameland and on the roofs everywhere. But being dependent on such sources simply means that you have periods of surplus and periods of shortage. In November for example, it blows little and the sun does not show much. It is relatively often foggy and cloudy. And that while the energy demand is high. So, how do you do that? ".
Parts of a test setup
'Then you need to store the energy that you generate with sun and wind in periods when there is surplus', De Jong continues. Seasonal storage. And then you are not talking about batteries, because their storage capacity is relatively low. '

The 'negatives' of batteries

The issue of storage is known. In many places in the Netherlands and in the rest of the world people are talking about that issue. Recently the NAM, the Dutch Petroleum Company responsible for gas extraction in Groningen, came up with a 'challenge' for storing large amounts of energy for a longer period of time. And on a smaller scale, batteries are actually used: in Rijsenhout (Netherlands) an experiment went into effect in November.

De Jong: 'Batteries certainly have a function. Especially in electric cars they can also be used very well to catch peaks in the day-night rhythm, such as in Utrecht (Netherlands). But they are unsuitable for the summer-winter rhythm. That is a lot more energy and you have to keep it for a longer period.
'Only' a sixth of our energy is converted into electricity. The rest is stored in chemical compounds.

'Another disadvantage of batteries is that they can only store electricity. But that's only a small part of our energy consumption: 400 to 500 petajoules. But our total primary energy requirement is no less than 3,000 petajoules. That's six times as much! Much of that other energy is spent on heating - the Groningen gas that we are going to accelerate now - but also on consumption in heavy industry, agriculture and especially heavy long-distance transport. Ship and aviation consume an enormous amount of energy and these sectors can not simply switch to electricity. '

That is why De Jong is working on converting electricity (sustainably generated, of course) into chemical compounds. Fabrics that are easy to store, hold a lot of energy and release that energy later. 'The most obvious step is making hydrogen via electrolysis
If you put enough direct current on water, then water decomposes in the individual chemical components: hydrogen and oxygen. You can already use that directly in industry in many cases, but that is often still quite complicated. '
'But there are many more possibilities. If you combine hydrogen with carbon dioxide, you can make so-called synthesis gas. That forms the basis for all kinds of chemical compounds that you can make: methane, methanol, formic acid ... you can do anything with it. The processes to make it cost energy, but if you can generate it sustainably, then it works.
De Jong is now steaming and is rapidly describing chemical processes. 'So you can use CO2. If you have caught that from flue gas (for example from a chimney of a factory, ed.), Or more sustainably from the air - that is what we are doing - and you let it react with hydrogen, which you have made electrically via electrolysis. , then you can make methane. Then you do not have more natural gas, but a sustainable gas. Green gas! It remains methane, but now with a circular source. In fact, it extracts CO2 from the atmosphere. '
It is therefore not inconceivable that at least we can continue to use part of the existing gas infrastructure in the current way: for transporting methane. 'I am for flexibility: not betting on one horse, but rather building resilience into the system. A hybrid system of sustainably generated electricity and sustainable gas, that is. '

Electrochemistry

'But methane may not even be the best business case - because methane from natural gas is still so cheap. Methanol may be smarter. Methanol (CH3OH) is liquid, which is easy to store. Moreover, it can be used for incineration in gas turbines for electricity production. We are already looking at applications to drive ships. '
Even more fantastic is a process that De Jong calls 'the direct route': converting CO2 (carbon dioxide) or N2 (dinitrogen) with electricity into all kinds of useful substances. Fuels, but also materials such as polymers: it is all possible. The conversion to hydrogen is thereby completely skipped. It seems like magic, but it is called electrochemistry.
It seems like magic, but it is called electrochemistry.

'That field has actually been a bit neglected for decades. Simply because we did not need it. After all, the fossil solution offered everything we needed and was also cheaper. Due to the concern about the use of fossil fuels in relation to climate change, this is starting to change. These are exciting times! "
Yet De Jong hastens to temper excessive enthusiasm: 'A lot of research is still in its infancy. We try to accelerate the technology development path through fundamental and applied research in more parallel lines
to run. So it is not the traditional image in which fundamental research is done for a long time, then applied and only then look at what the environmental effects are. No: we want to develop a lot of things at the same time. '
'But in the end the question is not' what can be done chemically? 'Because chemically there can be a lot. The question is, above all, 'what is practical in our society and when?' And that is still so uncertain that I certainly do not want to pin down on a prediction how long it will take before we have a society that is based on electrochemistry. , instead of petrochemistry ... "

Janno Lanjouw

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I'm interested in everything that has to do with sustainability. My house is solar powered and I have my own water supply and filtering system.  I grow my own vegetables and fruit. Most of the time I go on the road by bicycle and for long distances I use public transport.  
I'm interested in everything that has to do with sustainability. My house is solar powered and I have my own water supply and filtering system.  I grow my own vegetables and fruit. Most of the time I go on the road by bicycle and for long distances I use public transport.  
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