What is at stake?
The global community and the German Federal Government have committed to defossilizing our energy and material needs as quickly as possible in response to climate change. For the german transportation sector alone, the Federal Government's climate protection plan aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 48% within 40 years, starting in 1990. 9,2% reduction was achieved in the first 31 years – a defossilization rate of 0,3% p.a.. For the remaining 9 years, therefore, 39% must be saved. This would need at least a fivteen-fold increase in the defossilization rate to 4.3% per year! Based on current forecasts by the German Federal Government, the 2030 climate protection target for the transport sector will be missed by around 40 million metric tons per year.
The use of regenerative fuels, such as the regenerative methanol addressed in this project, can and will make an important contribution to making greenhouse gas emissions in the transport sector climate-neutral in the long term. So far, these regenerative fuels have hardly been established on the market. There are many reasons for this - technological, economic and also regulatory.
The aim of the project is to accelerate the innovation process already initiated for a novel production process for regenerative methanol and to achieve the necessary technological maturity for market entry in the climate-friendly long-distance freight transport segment in the follow-up phase.
What is special about this project?
The MeFuSION alliance sees the potential to substitute the existing internal combustion engine fleets in the long-distance freight transport sector with regenerative methanol fleets, thereby bringing about a significant reduction in CO2 emissions. The associated CO2 savings potential in Germany alone is immense and would thus make a significant sector contribution to achieving national climate targets. In view of the urgency, this potential can be leveraged much more quickly than via alternative technologies.
Compared to combustion engines running on methanol, the fuel cell offers a clean conversion of methanol by chemical reaction. No harmful by-products are produced in the process. The efficiency of the fuel cell is already higher than that of modern combustion engines. Compared to conventional hydrogen fuel cells, no new tank infrastructure needs to be built. In addition, methanol is liquid at ambient temperatures. The handling of methanol is well known to the general public and thus already established in practical applications. Methanol also has a high volumetric energy density compared to gaseous energy carriers or electrochemical storage (battery).
We use state-of-the-art methods to develop an absolutely new process for the production of regenerative methanol. Without the possibilities of quantum chemistry it would be practically impossible to find this process approach. Initial laboratory tests have shown that the process approach from the world of bits and bytes has the potential to outperform previous commercial plants by a factor of 20. This makes it possible to reduce the pressure and temperature of the reaction by 50% in each case. The cost of plant investment and operation drops dramatically and we achieve competitiveness against "economy of scale" systems. Our plants can then operate as small decentralized units, converting local resources (renewable energy, CO2 emissions, biogas, wastewater treatment plant gases, plastic waste combustion emissions, wood residues) into the globally demanded (intermediate) product methanol.
What do we want to achieve?
We want to make the impossible possible: We want to offer an economical alternative to fossil methanol production and make it usable for long-distance freight transport. To this end, we want to scale up all the process steps involved (synthesis gas and methanol production) to a relevant plant size, qualify the regenerative methanol produced for fuel cell mobility and prove the sustainability of the overall process. In addition, we want to achieve important progress in the efficient separation of the regenerative methanol.
Why is this project important?
The German Energy Agency (Deutsche Energie-Agentur GmbH - dena) assumes that "even in a strongly battery-electrified transport scenario, more than 70% of the final energy demand for all modes of transport in the EU in 2050 will have to be met by e-fuels. Most of these e-fuels will be needed for aviation, shipping, and road freight, as these segments with the highest fossil CO2 emissions are difficult to electrify across the board. The cost of e-fuels is currently still high (up to €4.5 per liter of diesel equivalent). A target cost level of about €1 per liter of diesel equivalent seems achievable from today's perspective with imports from regions with a high supply of solar and/or wind."
The complete defossilization of long-distance freight transport will probably require a combination of battery electric and regenerative fuels. From this perspective, renewable methanol is of particular importance. Unlike hydrogen and methane, methanol is liquid at room temperature and atmospheric pressure. This results in a strategic cost advantage for methanol: logistics and storage are significantly more costly for hydrogen or methane than for methanol, especially with regard to L-H₂ and LNG.
We will make an important contribution to bringing the dena forecast to life.