news / 2017-03-27

Research Network launched

Dr Rodoula Tryfonidou, Head of Energy Research Strategies and Policy Issues at the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, was delighted to welcome the many industry representatives. (Source: BINE Information Service)

The founding event for the Flexible Energy Conversion Research Network was held at the end of February 2017 at the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy in Berlin. In future, classic power plant technologies will work under one roof with solar thermal power plants and thermal storage systems. The key task will be to increase flexibility and improve the partial load behaviour in order to support the fluctuating renewable energies.

Dr Rodoula Tryfonidou, Head of Energy Research Strategies and Policy Issues at the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, welcomed the 150 experts from industry, research facilities, universities and associations and explained the objectives and tasks of the research networks. These are open platforms for discussion and participation between the experts as well as in regard to the energy research conducted by the German Federal Government. She hoped that such a network would enable the experts present to define their future themes and strategies and present them for discussion. This discussion process, which starts today, will ultimately be incorporated into the new Energy Research Programme. The new Flexible Energy Conversion Research Network is already the seventh network in addition to Buildings and Districts, System Analysis, Electricity Networks, Renewable Energies, Biomass as well as Industry and Trade.


The new network also brings together researchers from fields concerned with classic power plant technology, solar thermal power plants and large-scale thermal storage facilities. This means that the entire thermal power plant technologies are combined. Dr Tryfonidou thanked the COORETEC research initiative and Turbo AG for the very successful work over many years. She said that the results achieved will be incorporated into the new Flexible Energy Conversion Research Network, which means that it will not have to start its work from scratch but can already start today from a solid basis.


During the subsequent panel discussion, Dr Dietmar Keller (RWE Power AG), Professor Alfons Kather (Hamburg University of Technology), Professor Robert Pitz-Paal (German Aerospace Center), Matthias Zelinger (Mechanical Engineering Industry Association) and Professor Walter Leitner (RWTH Aachen University) suggested themes relating to the future of power plants for the following plenary discussion.

Taking part in the panel discussion were (from the left) Dr Dietmar Keller (RWE Power AG), Professor Alfons Kather (Hamburg University of Technology), Professor Robert Pitz-Paal (DLR), Matthias Zelinger (VDMA) and Professor Walter Leitner (RWTH Aachen University). (Source: BINE Information Service)

Professor Kather: The new central task for the future is to support fluctuating renewable energies by increasing the flexibility of conventional power plants. A key approach here is to develop large renewable storage systems. Until these are realised, conventional power plants will be indispensable. In particular, the focus is on chemical storage in order to store renewable hydrogen – the key technology. The core research area consists of Power-to-X technologies. Further objectives are concerned with improving the partial load behaviour of conventional power stations, increasing the fuel flexibility as well as the co-combustion of biomass and cogeneration. The prospects extend to pure hydrogen turbines. Almost the same technical requirements exist for exports as for the national market.

Dr Dietmar Keller (RWE), Professor Alfons Kather (TU Hamburg Harburg) and moderator Stefan Grützmacher. (Source: BINE Information Service)

Dr Keller emphasised in his statement that higher flexibility and increasing partial load operation pose different requirements for components and systems. The damage mechanisms are not yet fully understood and RWE is therefore conducting research on materials. Further research is needed in terms of accelerating the start-up and shut-down processes, further reducing the minimum load of power plants and increasing the fuel flexibility. A further focus of the research is on the potential for coupling sectors.


Because technological developments are hardly possible without a global market perspective, Mr Zelinger pointed to two global trends: energy consumption is increasing and the share of renewables is growing. The financial resources for the energy system are limited and ultimately decide which system can supply the kilowatt hours of electricity at the right price. The IEA estimates that by 2040, 100 gigawatts of gas power plants and about half as many coal-fired power plants will be built worldwide each year. Zelinger argues that Germany should focus on gas-fired power plants (gas and steam turbines, engines), as well as storage and sector coupling technologies, because this is where the industry enjoys a leading technological position.


Professor Pitz-Paal began by making it clear that solar thermal power plants basically use conventional power plant technology, supplemented by concentrated solar heat as a source of energy. Solar power plants have considerable experience in using large thermal storage systems to enable them to generate electricity even during the night. With the 10% co-firing of fossil fuels, the plants in sunny countries can be operated with a similar availability as conventional power plants. This technology was launched on the market in 2007 and the global market is estimated to amount to 20 billion euros per year. The German industry is well positioned with components and systems. Since 2007, this technology has managed to reduce its costs by 60%. The future task is to come under the market threshold of 6-8 cents through serial production and technological improvements. This is within range.


Professor Leitner advocated the material use of CO2. There are many ways to use carbon dioxide as a raw material. One example is polyurethane production (PUR). One important aspect is that the material utilisation of CO2 opens up a wide range of possibilities for coupling sectors and connecting to the energy system. End products include, for example, synthetic fuels and basic chemical products. Compared with conventional fuels, these fuels can be furnished with improved properties in order to mitigate previous harmful environmental effects.

Professor Pitz-Paal (DLR), Matthias Zelinger (VDMA) and Professor Leitner (RWTH Aachen University) (Source: BINE Information Service)

The economic and technical prospects for solar-thermal power plants, the potential of CCU technologies and broader sectoral coupling each formed a focus of the subsequent discussion in the plenum. In terms of increasing the link between the energy production and transport sectors, the discussion then focussed on synthetic fuels. Their generation incurs considerable energy expenditure and can only be carried out with inevitable CO2 emissions. One factor in favour of synthetic fuels, however, is that air transport and parts of the heavy-load sector will also be dependent on liquid fuels in the medium term. This is where electromobility currently reaches its limits. In terms of sectoral coupling, power plants with gasification technologies are gaining in importance. Another discussion point was concerned with the optimal strategy for dealing with hydrogen as a storage medium. Although direct re-conversion into electricity offers greater efficiency (approximately 50%) compared with methanation (approximately 30%), the latter is able to make use of the natural gas network with its large storage capacities.