48 (143) 2021

Green Transformation

Energy transition finally becomes a reality

By Radoslaw Gnutek, process engineering director, Bilfinger Tebodin
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A long strategic and regulatory debate on climate change is finally being transformed into reality. The general public has been pushing for some decisive steps in the area of climate change, but it took a long time for the declarative gestures of governments to be transformed into commercial projects. Eventually, though, it is happening, and we see a series of initiatives in which Bilfinger Tebodin provides its engineering expertise. It is a common understanding throughout the industry that the energy transition initiatives are the next big frontier for a technological push. The regulatory willpower and the technical feasibility are now being supplemented by funding available for the investments in this new area.

The local climate goals of various countries differ, but a consensus is that the temperature increase should be kept under 1.5°C for global warming to be maintained under relative control. For that to happen, the industry should become a net-zero emitter of greenhouse gases by mid-century. ‘Net-zero’ means that all the man-made greenhouse gas emissions need to be removed from the atmosphere, allowing the natural regulation mechanisms for balancing the natural carbon sources by the natural sinks.

Before this happens, we should halve our emissions by 2030. Those goals are ambitious and require determination. The coming decade will be decisive about whether we will reach the plans or not.

Actions limiting greenhouse gas emissions focused on the selected areas of human activities in the past. Energy production and transportation were in focus, together with energy efficiency. Ambitious goals of maintaining global warming to the 1.5 °C increase mean that not only the ‘low-hanging decarbonisation fruits’ shall be pursued. We need to improve all the industrial sectors for the goals to be fulfilled.

The call for energy efficiency and limiting energy consumption is valid, especially in the developed countries, where consumers have access to choices regarding power-hungry equipment, and investors are willing to put extra effort into energy-efficient industrial solutions. However, practice shows that consumers are not willing to sacrifice their comfort and convenience for reduced energy use. Access to affordable and reliable electricity is an essential condition for economic development. Therefore, many developing countries have used fossil fuels as locally available energy resources for lack of a better renewable solution. Advances made in developed countries, joined with the proper support mechanisms, are essential for just transformation worldwide.

Over the past ten years, the power system has made significant advancements in decarbonisation. Renewable energy – wind especially – is already the most affordable means of power production in many countries. Almost no state is seriously considering coal as a basis for their energy mix and a long-term solution for power production. Natural gas is still perceived as a transition fuel in many cases, allowing for a relatively quick transformation of coal-based energy systems into a less carbon-intensive state. However, one should avoid the risk of stranded assets by making the gas-fired plants ready to be converted into green hydrogen shortly. Advancements in the power sector should lay the foundation for the remaining industries.

Impressive changes are also happening in the transportation field. Electromobility, which a couple of years ago seemed possible but only in a very long-time horizon, is already conquering the hearts and minds of millions of people. Even though the cost and practical challenges related to charging still require improvements, most car manufacturers have announced transition to full-electric product portfolios in some not-so-distant future. The development of e-mobility creates a significant demand for increased production capacity in the Li-Ion batteries. Investments in the field are being prepared all over the world.

Hard-to-abate sectors
Not all the industry branches require the same level of effort to transit to the new decarbonised future. In many cases, electrification is the way to go. Some areas, though, are more challenging. The so-called hard-to-abate sectors, which include cement and steel production, aviation, long-distance sea-shipping, and heavy road transport, require innovation and technology development. In those areas, the direct use of electricity produced from renewable resources is problematic. In applications such as long-distance heavy transportation or aviation, the need for electricity storage would lead to significant size and heavy battery packs, making it impractical.

In these hard-to-abate cases, green hydrogen might provide the solution. Electrolysis is used to convert renewable energy into hydrogen by splitting water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. The resulting gases may be compressed and used directly, such as for powering heavy-goods vehicles. It can also be an input to further conversion processes in synthetic fuels or synthetic chemicals in general. The existing industrial solutions allow for green ammonia, methanol, synthetic natural gas, and many more. The fuels produced in this way usually have a higher volumetric energy density, allowing for applications such as aviation, where the volume of the loaded fuel is a limiting factor.

The widespread use of the new technologies should allow cost reduction. The use of PEM electrolysers promises lowers investment cost while improving the operational characteristics of the devices. There is a need for more efficient capture of CO2 , and new solutions must be found for CO2 utilisation in concrete production or composite materials.

Bilfinger Tebodin is well prepared for supporting companies on their energy transition journey. Our primary service is to be an integrator of proprietary technology owned by the clients or solutions from licensers on the market. Our expertise lies in optimising the overall plant set-up, seamlessly integrating various technical solutions and managing interfaces to ensure no part of the plant is left unplanned or forgotten.

Thanks to our broad industrial experience, we are able to transfer best practices from one industrial sector to the others. We are partnering with clients along the way of the transition path. We have executed a number of environmentally future-proof projects in the last years.

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