Research project ORBIT II

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

OTH Regensburg coordinates joint research project “ORBIT”

With the generation of electricity from renewable sources comes the challenge of a growing need for storage capabilities. In the joint research project “ORBIT”, eight partners are working on the optimization of power-to-gas plants with the aim of solving this problem.

Power generation from renewable sources is an important part of the energy transition and climate protection. But with the generation of green electricity comes the challenge of growing storage needs: in the collaborative research project “ORBIT” (Optimization of a Trickle Bed Bioreactor for the Dynamic Microbial Biosynthesis of Methane with Archaea in Power-to-Gas Plants), eight partners are working on the optimization of power-to-gas plants with the aim of solving this problem.

The project is coordinated by the Research Center for Energy Networks and Energy Storage (FENES) at the Regensburg University of Applied Sciences (OTH Regensburg) under the direction of Prof. Dr.-Ing. Michael Sterner. Project partners are the University of Regensburg alongside its Chair of Microbiology (German Archaeological Center), the Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nuremberg alongside its Chair of Energy Process Engineering as well as the industry partners Electrochaea GmbH, MicrobEnergy GmbH (Viessmann) and MicroPyros GmbH.

As an associated partner, Westnetz GmbH, a German gas network operator, is making its infrastructure available for testing the project within a real environment. The DVGW (German Technical and Scientific Association for Gas and Water) is involved as a project advisory board member with its research unit at the Engler-Bunte Institute of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology.

The Power-to-Gas Concept

The project, which is funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy with 1 million euros, focuses on biological methanation in which microorganisms are used to produce “green” methane from hydrogen that can be fed into the grid. The project is characterized by its comprehensive approach to the issue: biologists, process engineers, energy engineers, plant engineers and users are working hand in hand in order to advance the project.

In the power-to-gas concept, which was co-developed by Prof. Dr.-Ing. Michael Sterner at the Fraunhofer Institute for Wind Energy and Energy System Technology (Fraunhofer IWES), surplus electricity (e.g. from wind turbines) is used to electrolyze water which is then used in the methanation of CO2. The resulting methane, the main component of fossil natural gas, can be fed directly into the gas grid.

This makes it possible to tap the full potential of the existing gas infrastructure, supplying all consumers and solving the problem of storing wind and solar energy efficiently and cost-effectively over long periods of time.

Project “ORBIT”

In the “ORBIT” project, specifically selected archaea take over the process of methanation. These microorganisms are among the oldest living organisms on earth and occur in oxygen-free habitats such as bogs and swamps but also in the digestive tract of humans. The archaea used in the project obtain their energy from the conversion of carbon dioxide and hydrogen and excrete methane as a “waste product”.

Within the project, the interaction between biology, process engineering and plant control will be developed and harmonized. The companies involved hope that the project will provide new findings for the operation and further development of their reactors and a uniform standard of comparison for the new plant technology.

“Electricity from renewable energies will be the new primary energy source in the near future, replacing fossil gas, coal and nuclear power. Renewable electricity serves the entire energy system via sector coupling and enables the decarbonization of electricity, heat, mobility and industrial applications via storage technologies,” says Martin Thema who heads the project at FENES in Regensburg. With “ORBIT”, the research center is working on a central solution for the energy supply of the future. Funding for the project began on July 1st 2017 and will run for three years.

Authors: Office of University Communications and Public Relations (OTH Regensburg)