The world is facing a massive energy and environmental challenge, a challenge that is particularly acute for Europe. According to the International Energy Agency
world energy demand is set to increase by more than 50% by 2030; demand for oil alone is expected to grow by 41% during the same period. Oil and gas reserves are increasingly concentrated in a few countries that control them through monopoly companies. The dependence of Europe on imported oil and gas is growing: we import 50% of our energy, and it will be 65% by 2030 if we don't act. If oil price increases to 100$ per barrel by 2030, the EU annual energy import bill will increase by more than 350 euro for every EU citizen, and none of this would bring additional jobs and wealth to Europe.
This scenario is not just a threat to the economy: the world emissions of CO2 (which accounts for 75% of all greenhouse gases) will increase by 55% by 2030, while EU emissions are set to increase by 5% during this period. If we let this happen, the results on our environment (climate change) and our way of life will be tremendous.
The European Strategic Energy Technology
(SET) Plan has identified fuel cells and hydrogen among the technologies needed for Europe to achieve the targets for 2020 - 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions; 20% share of renewable energy sources in the energy mix; and 20% reduction in primary energy use as well as to achieve the long-term vision for 2050 towards decarbonisation. This is in line with the Commission's Communication
, "Energy for a Changing World An Energy Policy for Europe" 2, the goals of the Lisbon Strategy and the European Council's Conclusion on a European Energy Strategy for Transport, 29 May 2007.
A very big opportunity for research and technological development is facing us: the EU is in the position to take global leadership in catalysing a new industrial revolution accelerating the change to low-carbon growth and increasing the amount of local low-emission energy that is produced and used.
Today the cost of renewable energy is generally speaking more expensive than "traditional" energy sources; this is truer speaking of fuel
derived from renewable. However the global market for renewable energy is expanding exponentially and the European Union is already leader in many of these areas (the EU renewable industry accounts for a turnover of 10 billion euro and employs 200,000 people). The present energy policy of the Commission allows flexibility to Member States: each country should have a legally binding national renewable energy target but within this they are free to develop the type of renewable energy best suited to their own particular circumstances (renewable electricity, biomass for heating and cooling, biofuels, etc.). This directive implies increased competition in the development of efficient and cost-effective renewable energy systems especially in the broad and open field of power generation where the share of renewables is and is projected to be higher than for the overall energy consumption and modern biomass thermo-chemical conversion technologies are confronted mainly with wind and hydraulic systems. The share of biomass in the renewable primary energy production has been 66% in 2005 (Renewable Energy Barometer. 2006). In the renewable electricity generation the share of biomass is 16% in 2005 about the same as that of wind. Europe's will to substitute solid biomass energy consumption (principally wood and wood waste, but also straw, crop harvest residues, vegetal and animal waste) for a part of that of fossil fuel origin is beginning to pay off. Primary solid biomass production (not including renewable solid urban waste) is once again in marked increase with 5.7% growth in 2005 with respect to the year before (+3.196 Mtoe). European electricity production of solid biomass origin is also in marked growth, with a 16.2% increase between 2004 and 2005 (+6.1 TWh. i.e. a total of 44.1 TWh). The EU owes this principally to the development of electricity resulting from CHP (combined heat and power) production.
UNIfHY is well harmonised with the main issues of the European energy policy here summarised in brief. The objectives and the content of this project are seen to be exactly in line with the overall objective FCH JU annual implementation plan: "The various thermal conversion technologies for hydrogen production from CO2-neutral precursors need to be addressed in terms of cost, efficiency and scalability, especially for the application to decentralised production schemes. In order to achieve maturity, hydrogen production equipment based on the use of biomass has to be further developed. Under this topic development of BTH thermal H2 production methods in order to allow hydrogen production from biomass, increase well-to-tank efficiency and contribute to a sustainable energy portfolio, is foreseen..".
More specifically, the following issues, among those set in the Work Programme, are addressed directly:
- Conception of low cost and energy efficient systems to produce hydrogen from solid biomass.
- Improve of pre-treatment for different types of feedstock
- Design and build a reactor for the continuous production of hydrogen at a precommercial scale, improving with respect on the current state of the art and pilot plants.
- Feasibility assessment of the process taking into account the purity of the hydrogen produced (PEMFC grade), by-products and effluents.
With reference to the "Hydrogen Production & Distribution", it is worth stressing that the proposed research activities are aimed at the development of an integrated technology for sustainable hydrogen production from biomass able to provide the means to meet an increasing share of the hydrogen demand for energy applications from carbon-free sources.
With reference to the topic SP1-JTI-FCH.2011.2.3 "Biomass-to-hydrogen (BTH) thermal conversion process", the overall project objective is the development and scale up activities on materials and reactors design in order to obtain a continuous process for hydrogen production from biomass.
In particular regarding material:
- new catalytic filter candle already tested and optimized in previous EU project UNIQUE will permit to obtain a high purity syngas for the downstream hydrogen purification system, syngas free of tar, particulates and detrimental trace elements.
- new materials like Fe-Cu/Foam catalyst will be tested and will permit to obtain high efficient H2 purification by means of WGS also at atmospheric pressure, this is a constrain for small size, but sustainable, application like that required by the call.
while regarding reactors design:
- a new concept of biomass gasifier (UNIQUE technology) will be utilized in the project, This new concept integrates in one reactor vessel the fluidized bed steam gasification of biomass, the hot gas cleaning and conditioning system and the reforming of residual methane, reducing thermal losses, thus keeping high the thermal efficiency, in a very compact system and in a cost-effective way. This technology was validated at bench scale during past UNIQUE project, while its feasibility was demonstrated also at industrial scale. What is foreseen in UNIfHY is to demonstrate that this new concept can be truly scaled-up and that it can operates in a continuous process for hydrogen production.
- new PSA for small scale application will be interfaced for the complete purification of hydrogen for PEM application.
It is expected that this technology will have a noticeable impact to allow the production of a gas with the specifications required for use in PEM fuel cells in a cost-effective way, thus impacting in the all FCH program. Indeed the final output of this technology will be the realization of a system in order to produce hydrogen in the forecourt size range for a hydrogen filling station (from 100 to 500 kg/day) with high integration thus to void the use of external heating and to increase the overall efficiency. Thanks to the high level of integration, the heating value of the gas, including purification, related to heating value of the feedstock is expected to be 73%. Thanks to the modulability of the various devices, a scalability to at least 500 kg/day is feasible and it is considered in the deliverable 5.3. Thus the project will impact also on the demonstration of large hydrogen production facilities and filling stations, like the topics 2.1 and 2.2 of "Hydrogen Production & Distribution" area and the topic 1.1 in the "Transportation & Refuelling Infrastructure" area of this call. Moreover the proposal impacts, as already mentioned in the point 1.1 and 1.2 of the section 1, on the Stationary Power Generation & CHP area, and specifically on the topic "Proof-of-concept fuel cell systems", owing to the close interaction with the research proposed in BIOFICIENCY, a proposal in this topic coordinated by ENEA aimed at Stand-alone decentralized generation using the same UNIQUE gasifier. In particular, the coordinator, CIRPS, has already in his Hydrogen Lazio Center, a hydrogen bus and a hydrogen filling station (electrolyser and fuel cell by Hydrogenics; dispenser, compressor, etc by the project partner Air Liquide), and he is involved in the demonstration of hydrogen vehicles in the Lazio region (the European region who owns the great bus fleet, managed by COTRAL). Thus the development of the UNIfHY technology will have also a first direct application on the Lazio Region existent and planned hydrogen filling stations (e.g. the UNIfHY 100 applied to the CIRPS-COTRAL hydrogen filling stations).
As far as industrial competitiveness is concerned, the UNIfHY consortium includes partners directly involved in designing and operating biomass gasification and hydrogen production plants that are at the forefront of the technology in Europe and a primary world leader in gas cleaning and conditioning systems and hydrogen purification system together with universities and research centres either well recognised for their distinguished record of scientific contributions to the field and having the potential to develop first class research and innovation: an important and well balanced competence network, fully qualified to perform the ambitious research programme and provide technological enhancement worthy of commercial exploitation in the medium term. Furthermore the technologies utilized in UNIfHY were all tested and validated during previous EU projects, UNIfHY now propose their integration to demonstrate the feasibility of the overall system and that the system is ready for commercialization by 2013. Because the high level of experience of the partners involved in project in themes of biomass gasification and hydrogen purification, and because most of the device are already commercialized (Filter candle, PSA) a durability of 20 years (160,000 h) with availability of 95% is expected for the complete system. Evidences of this will be anyway supplied during the project, thanks to the experimental activities as well to dedicated studies. The high integration of the subsystems as well as the high level of commercialization of these UNIfHY will demonstrate that Low system cost, also below 5 euro/kg of H2, including CAPEX, is possible. Indeed, not only the technology is integrated and cost effective, but especially, utilizes low cost solid biomass wastes, thus preliminary analyses indicate a hydrogen cost of 3-4 euro/kg, depending on the biomass cost.
Finally a major general goal of UNIfHY is to contribute to the creation of a critical mass of resources and the integration and coherence of research efforts on the European scale. These are in fact the primary objectives of this consortium which is made of applicants established in four EU different countries. In addition, some of the partners are co-operating in this field of research since many years, and others are new-comers contributing to better address the original expertise to the specific topics of this project: a well assorted and established partnership, with the purpose to bring together academic, industrial and research organizations at the EU level to integrate them in a specific project well fitted into the FCH priorities. In more general terms, development of efficient biomass energy conversion to fuels can also provide a contribution to the agriculture sector, especially at this stage of the European policy that is considering and applying radical changes in the criteria to sustain food crops with financial incentives. A substantial increase in biomass energy production would require the development of energy crops which could contribute towards a solution of the agricultural over-production crisis. With many research programs presently in progress in U.S.A. with funding from the DOE and private companies and other countries such as Japan it is therefore extremely important and urgent to combine the efforts and capabilities available in Europe in order to maintain competitiveness on the global market. Due to the variety and complexity of the problems, capabilities and know-how, either scientific or technological, which are necessary for implementation of the technology the project aims can only be fulfilled by the active collaboration of all the members of this consortium. The level of excellence in the consortium cannot be found at a single national level and is an example of the importance of an integrated European research area.