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H2020

ECo Report Summary

Project ID: 699892
Funded under: H2020-EU.3.3.8.2.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - ECo (Efficient Co-Electrolyser for Efficient Renewable Energy Storage - ECo)

Reporting period: 2016-05-01 to 2017-10-31

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

Europe has ambitious climate goals in order to improve environmental conditions and counteract global warming. The reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and the increase of energy production from renewable sources are on the agenda. Particularly the establishment of more and more wind and solar based electricity production leads to challenges because of the fluctuating nature and not predictable pattern of these renewable sources. Efficient technologies for storage – also on large scale, distribution and balancing are needed.
High temperature electrolysis provides a solution for these challenges. Using solid oxide electrolysis cells (SOECs), steam and even CO2 can be directly converted in an electrolysis process that can use excess electricity from renewable sources. This process is called co-electrolysis and is unique for the SOEC technology. The electrolysis efficiencies are very high, around 90%. The obtained gas mixture is known as synthesis gas (hydrogen + CO) and can be converted by known catalysis technology into hydrocarbons such as methane or methanol. Methane is in fact a very attractive storage and distribution medium because an extensive natural gas network and storage tanks exist throughout the whole Europe. Already now, approx. 50% of the total electricity produced from renewable sources could be accommodated as methane in existing underground storage facilities. Thus no additional infrastructure is necessary, saving significant investments. The comprehensive natural gas network also makes it a system of transport for bringing gas from production to consumption areas with minimal losses.
The overall goal of the ECo project is to develop and validate a highly efficient co-electrolysis process for conversion of excess renewable electricity into distributable and storable hydrocarbons via simultaneous electrolysis of steam and CO2 through SOEC. The project approach is illustrated in figure 1.

More specifically, the ECo project will:
• Improve the current SOECs to achieve high performances and high efficiencies at ca. hundred degrees lower operating temperatures than state of the art in order to reduce thermally activated degradation processes, to improve integration with hydrocarbon production, and to reduce overall costs.
• Investigate durability under realistic co-electrolysis operating conditions that include dynamic electricity input from fluctuating sources and high pressure operation in order to reduce costs for the integration of SOEC with the subsequent catalytic processes and gas distribution. The aim is to acquire unique knowledge about durability and to finally achieve low degradation rates under such relevant operating conditions.
• Design a plant to integrate the co-electrolysis with fluctuating electricity input and catalytic processes for hydrocarbon production, with special emphasis on methane production and perform selected validation tests under the thus needed operating conditions.
• Test a co-electrolysis system under realistic conditions for final validation of the obtained results at larger scale.
• Demonstrate economic viability for overall process efficiencies exceeding 60% by identifying and evaluating concept designs based on real cases.
• Perform a life cycle assessment with CO2 from different sources, which are realistic in future, fossil free energy systems (like cement industry or biogas) and electricity from renewable sources.

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

Already in the first period of the project, it was shown how the ECo project concept can contribute to Europe’s’ targets of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, of increasing the share of renewable energy sources in the energy mix, and of reducing the primary energy use – both as conceptual studies with specific cases and also by system design studies. Economic benefits are currently under detailed investigation for specific cases including the capture of CO2 from different sources. The technological impact is already evident from the development and demonstration of improved versions of solid oxide electrolysis cells. More benefit is expected regarding durability on cell and stack level as compared to state of the art.
More specifically, the following results in relation to the objectives of the ECo projects were achieved:
• An improved SOEC was developed through electrode optimisation, which allows for operating the SOEC at ~50-100 oC lower temperature as compared to the current state. This achievement needs to be confirmed for relevant cell sizes and also in a stack environment.
• Durability tests have been carried out under realistic co-electrolysis operating conditions on state of the art cells and stacks in order to benchmark the technology state. The degradation rates are in a range, which is not sufficient for commercial use. The obtained results represent important knowledge to base further durability studies on. Improved cells and stacks will be studied for expected better durability in the forthcoming project period.
• An SOEC plant was designed that lays the basis for evaluating the impact of operating parameters on methane production rate and system efficiency. In the coming period, more details will be implemented such as the direct internal methane formation inside the SOEC stack in order to support the general project concept and to guide the selection of operating conditions for the final system test in the ECo project.
• Realistic cases for the ECo project were selected, which include all needed sources for the SOEC process (gasses and electricity) and which currently serve as basis for the evaluation of economic viability and also for the life cycle assessment.

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

It is expected that the ECo project will have major environmental, social, economic, and technological impacts, particularly because it investigates SOEC under realistic conditions, improves the current SOEC, and projects the technology towards real cases. At the end of the ECo project, a higher technology readiness level than state of the art will be achieved, thereby moving the technology closer to a market break through.

Anke Hagen, project coordinator

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