Research project ORBIT II

Expansion of a highly efficient trickle bed bioreactor and optimization of the methanation plant for commercial industrial use

Bioreactor plant from the ORBIT project goes online in Tecklenburg county

From Regensburg to Ibbenbüren: Federal Minister for Research gives go-ahead for field trials.

Launch of production and feed-in of green methane from the novel ORBIT bioreactor: on October 23rd 2020, the additional methanation stage from the ORBIT joint project coordinated by OTH Regensburg was officially commissioned in Ibbenbüren as a supplement to the power-to-gas plant operated by Westenergie since 2015. The Federal Minister for Education and Research Anja Karliczek as well as Andreas Feicht, State Secretary at the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, also traveled to the event.

Federal Research Minister Anja Karliczek: “The power-to-gas plant in Ibbenbüren is an example of how we can build the climate-neutral energy supply of the future: with innovation, drive, and in cooperation between sciencists and the industry. Forward-looking solutions like this create new value and jobs – and ensure that we can pass on a world worth living in to our children and grandchildren.”

Andreas Feicht, State Secretary at the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, adds: “Hydrogen and its derivatives are key elements in completing the energy transition. For this, we need projects like ORBIT that transfer innovative approaches into application. This is how we can make the market ramp-up of hydrogen technologies a reality and achieve our ambitious goals. The success of the project also shows that we can make an important contribution with our support for energy research.”

Im Zusammenspiel haben die Beteiligten einen Meilenstein im Verbundprojekt ORBIT erreicht: Die erste Power-to-Gas-Bioreaktor-Anlage geht in Deutschland ans Netz. Die Felderprobung erfolgt in Ibbenbüren (Nordrhein-Westfalen).
Working together, the participants have reached a milestone in the ORBIT joint project: the first power-to-gas bioreactor plant goes online in Germany. Field testing is taking place in Ibbenbüren (North Rhine-Westphalia). Photo: Hermann Pentermann/Westenergie AG

Following successful test operation on the joint campus of the OTH and the University of Regensburg, the methanation plant is now being field-tested in Ibbenbüren until the end of this year. Here, it draws green hydrogen from an electrolyzer powered by renewable electricity and carbon dioxide from bioethanol production and feeds the green gas produced into the gas grid of the Tecklenburg region. Prof. Dr.-Ing. Michael Sterner, head of the Energy Networks and Energy Storage (FENES) research center at OTH Regensburg, says: “This is where the Hydrogen Republic of Germany becomes a reality: thanks to constructive and interdisciplinary collaboration, we were able to get a functioning system from basic research to field application within a short time.” “As the energy transition progresses, energy storage systems are becoming increasingly important for balancing fluctuating generation and consumption. Power-to-gas technology plays a key role in this. Here in Ibbenbüren, we are now proving that the technology is ready for application,” says coordinator and FENES employee Martin Thema.

ORBIT stands for ‘Optimization of a trickle bed bioreactor for the dynamic microbial biosynthesis of methane with archaea in power-to-gas plants’. The research project has been running since July 2017 and was funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi) with 1.14 million euros. It aims to further develop biological methanation as an efficient energy storage and sector coupling technology for the future by the end of 2020. This is a process in which regeneratively produced hydrogen and carbon dioxide are converted to methane by methane-producing archaea. Archaea are microorganisms that are among the oldest living microorganisms on Earth, having evolved over 3.5 billion years ago. Methanogenic archaea are found in oxygen-free habitats such as bogs and swamps, geothermal springs or the deep sea but also in the digestive tracts of humans and other mammals. The methane produced can be used as a substitute for fossil natural gas helping shape a renewable energy supply for the future.

v.l.n.r.: Dr. Annett Bellack (Universität Regensburg, Lehrstuhl Mikrobiologie und Archaeenzentrum), Tobias Weidlich (Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, Lehrstuhl Energieverfahrenstechnik), Martin Thema (OTH Regensburg, Forschungsstelle Energienetze und Energiespeicher), Bundesministerin Anja Karliczek (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung), Andrea Böllmann (Universität Regensburg, Lehrstuhl Mikrobiologie und Archaeenzentrum), Anja Kaul (OTH Regensburg, Forschungsstelle Energienetze und Energiespeicher).
From left to right: Martin Thema, Research Center Energy Networks and Energy Storage (FENES) at OTH Regensburg, Prof. Dr. Michael Sterner, Head of Research Center FENES at OTH Regensburg; Anja Karliczek, Federal Minister of Education and Research; Harald Heß, Chief Technology Officer of Westenergie and Andreas Feicht, State Secretary at the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy. Photo: Hermann Pentermann/Westenergie AG

Dr. Marc Schrameyer, mayor of Ibbenbüren, says: “The district of Steinfurt, and with it Ibbenbüren, did not apply to become a hydrogen model region for nothing. The number of EEG plants here is above average and new ones are being added every day. If the energy turnaround is to succeed, we must also succeed in storing this regeneratively generated electricity. Battery cells are one way, hydrogen and methane the other. I am pleased that this other key technology will also be researched in Ibbenbüren in the future, in addition to battery cells.”

“We started up the power-to-gas plant in Ibbenbüren back in 2015 and have since been gaining valuable experience in the field of sector coupling in over 7,500 hours of operation. In the process, we have been successfully demonstrating the entire chain from the generation of hydrogen to its conversion back into electricity in a combined heat and power plant. With waste heat utilization, an overall efficiency of 75 percent is achieved. The ORBIT project adds a methanation stage. With this overall concept, we are demonstrating the great potential of hydrogen technology and providing a blueprint for the industrial scale,” says Harald Heß, Chief Technology Officer at Westenergie.

Project partners are the University of Regensburg alongside its Chair of Microbiology as well as the Archaeence Center Regensburg, the Friedrich Alexander University Erlangen-Nuremberg alongside its Chair of Energy Process Engineering, and the industry partners Electrochaea GmbH, microbEnergy GmbH (Viessmann Group) and MicroPyros GmbH. As associated partners, Westenergie AG and its distribution grid operator Westnetz GmbH provide the infrastructure for field testing and hosted today’s event. The DVGW (German Technical and Scientific Association for Gas and Water) is involved as a member of the project advisory board with its research unit at the Engler-Bunte Institute of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology.

Authors: FENES, OTH Regensburg, Westenergie AG