Biocat Power-To-Gas Project - A Potential Energy Storage Gamechanger?

Dominic Hofstetter, VP of Business Development, Electrochaea gives an update on the BioCat Power-To-Gas project in Denmark.
Published: Wed 10 Sep 2014

The overall objective of the BioCat Project is to engineer, design, construct and test a 1-MW power-to-gas facility using an alkaline electrolysis and biological methanation.

The plant will be erected at the waste water treatment plant Avedore in Copenhagen, Denmark. The project marks the last step in Electrochaea technology development effort and is anticipated to lift the technology to market-readiness by the beginning of 2016.

Consortium partners include Hydrogenics, AUDI, NEAS Energy, HMN Gashandel, BIOFOS, and Insero Business Services. The project was launched in Feb 2014 and is expected to come to an end by Dec 2015., the Danish gas and power transmission grid operator, is sponsoring 55% of the costs.

According to Hofstetter, who will be presenting on Engerati’s webinar, “BioCat Project Update - Power to Gas Via Biological Catalysis” on the 23 September, the BioCat Project is anticipated to be the last scale-up and de-risking step for Electrochaea's technology. He says, “If we can reach the technical and commercial goals of the project, we will have a viable and competitive energy storage solution ready for deployment. To the extent that energy storage is required for increasing the stability and efficiency of future energy systems, the BioCat Project could mark a break-through moment in the development of this technology field.”

Why power to gas?

Power-to-gas (P2G) falls into the category of bulk energy storage and therefore competes with pumped hydro storage (PHS) and compressed air energy storage (CAES) for the long-duration, high energy storage events (rather than the short duration, low energy storage events handled most efficiently by battery-based systems).

P2G excels through a practically unlimited charge duration, which means that it can absorb excess energy for multiple hours and days, depending on the grid's needs. It therefore provides the energy storage capacity that PHS (due to insufficient capacity for expansion) and CAES (due to geological restrictions) fail to provide.

Denmark already produces almost 40% of its electricity from wind, which means that the system must deal with a large degree of power production variability. Accordng to Hofstetter, the Danish TSO has conducted an analysis and concluded that P2G is the only energy storage technology on the horizon capable of absorbing the excess energy produced in the future Danish energy system.

While the technical obstacles for P2G have largely been overcome already, P2G still has a lot to prove in terms of economics. And ultimately, it will be economics that drive the prevalence of storage technologies.

“I'm convinced, however, that P2G will have its place in any future energy system with a large share of intermittent renewables (solar, wind). It will not, however, be the only energy storage technology, but rather an important component of a portfolio of technologies that will make the energy system more efficient and reliable,” explains Hofstetter.

Are European utilities taking energy storage seriously?

Engerati asked Hofstetter for his opinion on the progress that European utilities are making with regards to energy storage and he had this to say: “In our interactions with European utilities, we perceive them as quite interested in energy storage in general and power-to-gas in particular.

However, many European utilities are struggling with the ongoing transformation of the energy landscape and have limited resources and attention for development projects. In addition, utilities have a core competence in deploying technology, not necessarily in developing them.

So we have made mixed experiences working with European utilities in the most recent past. That said, some utilities do in fact have the vision and commitment to play a leading role in the energy transition and are willing to engage with technology developers like Electrochaea to be at the forefront of innovation.”