Using liquefied natural gas to generate heating without using fossil fuels or resorting to fracking

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FAU coordinates EU project to manufacture synthetic methane as an alternative to natural gas

Finding a climate-neutral source of gas is one of the most pressing concerns of our times. One option, which is rapidly gaining in significance, is the carbon neutral, synthetic production of a liquefied natural gas substitute from biomass. Since the beginning of November, Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) has been coordinating the project “CarbonNeutralLNG” focusing on the production of synthetic methane using hydrogen, as an alternative to fossil energy sources, and carbon dioxide (CO2). The project is part of Horizon Europe, the central funding program offered by the European Union to encourage research and innovation, and is to receive 3.5 million euros in funding over a period of three years.

Green methane from green hydrogen and green carbon dioxide

With only one six hundredth of the volume of its gaseous variant, liquefied natural gas is much better suited for transport and storage. Its main component is methane. Currently, methane is already being liquefied by being cooled down to extremely low temperatures of approximately negative 160°C and imported in large quantities to Germany as liquefied natural gas (or LNG for short) to end Europe’s dependence on Russian natural gas.

Together with twelve research partners from six European states and Canada, the aim is to supply Europe’s LNG terminals with LNG from renewable energy sources. If green hydrogen is produced in countries with a surplus of electricity from renewable sources, as is the case in Iceland, Chile, Australia or Canada, it can be used to produce LNG, which can then be imported very easily and cheaply to Europe in the form of liquefied methane using existing LNG tankers.

“The important part is that the CO2 used to produce the methane does not originate from fossil sources, but rather is taken directly from the atmosphere,” explains Prof. Jürgen Karl from the Chair of Energy Process Engineering. The process involves the thermochemical gasification of biomass, during which sustainable biomass takes “green” carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Using steam to trigger the gasification of the biomass also produces large quantities of hydrogen that reacts with the additional hydrogen from the electrolysis and the biogenic CO2 to produce methane. The gasification process uses electricity from renewable energies, ensuring that the biomass resources are used as efficiently as possible.

Import and innovation

A number of innovations are used to ensure that the project remains carbon neutral, for example using reactors created using additive manufacturing, i.e. 3D printing, or ensuring that all carbon dioxide that is generated is converted into e-fuel using electromethanogenesis. Prof. Katharina Herkendell conducts research into electromethanogenesis at FAU.

The project aims to provide LNG for the transport sector, for example for shipping or heavy goods road transport. As well as this role as an e-fuel, green LNG can also be used to replace natural gas from fossil sources for power generation, heat generation and in the chemical industry, for example for manufacturing plastics or medical drugs.

Detailed information on the EU project is available online.

More information

Prof. Dr. Jürgen Karl
Chair of Energy Process Engineering
Phone: + 49 911 302-99021