Providing synthetic gas all year round

As the call to abandon fossil fuels gains pace, scientists in Switzerland are looking into the production of synthetic methane. A fresh inflow of funds is now driving pilot projects in the energy sector.

One challenge in the shift from fossil- to synthetic fuels is how to supply renewable energy in the wintertime. Another is how to convert long-distance, heavy and air traffic to renewable fuels.

An ongoing research project at Empa in Zurich is looking into these issues as it researches the production of synthetic methane. Now, the Canton of Zurich is now supporting the research with a total of CHF 500,000 to support pilot projects in the energy sector, announced a statement.

Synthetic methane can be produced from renewable electricity, water and carbon dioxide (CO2) and easily transported via the gas grid. Synthetic methane can also be used in liquid form as an alternative to diesel for long-distance cargo transport, and it enables the electricity, heating and transport sectors to be linked. Research into the production of synthetic methane also serves as a basis for the development of synthetic kerosene, which should enable CO2-neutral air travel in the future.

“It is a key question for protecting our climate: How can we make surplus solar energy from summertime available all year round in order to become CO2-free – especially in transport,” said Martin Neukom, Head of the Building Department of the Canton of Zurich, in the statement.

Although the conversion of renewable electricity into synthetic methane is not new, various fundamentals are still missing for the classification and comparative evaluation of future energy supply and mobility concepts.

The goal of the Empa project is to expand “move” – Empa’s future mobility demonstrator, where various electric and hydrogen mobility projects are already underway – to include a production facility for synthetic methane by 2021, explains the statement. At the connected fueling station, trucks provided by a project partner can be refuelled with CO2-neutral, synthetic methane. A process developed at Empa will be used to produce this methane.

In parallel, the researchers will investigate cost structures and develop economic models, which can serve as a basis for decision makers to shape the framework conditions for future post-fossil mobility.

Image credit: Asian Development Bank/ Flickr Creative Commons

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