European research into alternative energy

March 9, 2006

Brussels, 8 March 2006

Today’s Green paper on energy highlights the important role to be played by research for the energies of the future. This background note highlights some of the research into sources of energy that can be an alternative to fossil fuels and is already being done at European Union level. All of the projects mentioned here, and the many others that are being carried out in this field, contribute to the European goals of sustainable, clean and secure fuel and energy supply

Biofuels and biomass

€68 million have been made available from the 6th Framework Programme to support research in the area of biomass to develop second generation biofuels, new technologies for clean and cost efficient power generation from biomass, integrated biomass use through biorefineries and overcoming market barriers.
Biofuels on the Road/Developing second generation biofuels: While biodiesel and bioethanol are entering the market on a much greater scale, their widespread use raises questions of environment and technology . Second generation biofuels based on Fischer-Tropsch synthesis from biomass fulfil all quality standards of today’s mineral based fuels and have superior environmental properties. The main objective of the RENEW project is to research and develop second generation biofuels for use in modern combustion engines. A broad range of pathways for the production of road fuels from various biomass resources will be studied. A further objective is the assessment of the energy chain, the costs and CO2-emissions. The most promising biofuels will be produced on a pilot scale.

Closer Cooperation in Bio-energy / Overcoming barriers to the market: Growth rates of renewable energy have been impressive in recent years, in particular in the areas of wind and photovoltaics. Only for biomass the projected growth rates have been significantly higher than those achieved. This is because there are a number of obstacles that prevent a more widespread use of this valuable energy source. The Network NOE-BIOENERGY covers the entire field of bio-energy. It will, in close co-operation with industry, analyse the barriers in the bio-energy area taking into account the whole biomass utilisation chain. Partner activities will be integrated to achieve a durable integration beyond the period of Community financial support. Points studied will be the heterogeneous feedstock base, competing uses of biomass, the complex properties of bio-materials, socio-economic factors related to crop production, technical challenges and economic boundary conditions.

Solar electricity

€95 million have been made available from the Sixth Framework Programme for Research to increase the efficiency and reduce the costs of photovoltaic solar modules.

Flexible Solar Power: Traditional solar panels are produced on glass, which increases the weight and cost of the final product. The aim of the FLEXCELLENCE project is to develop flexible (glass-free) solar panel technology that could be manufactured in a roll-to-roll process. In such a process, a long substrate of up to several kilometres is unrolled on one side and rolled up on the other side after processing. A pre-requisite for a cost-effective production process is a fast deposition rate of the micro-crystalline silicon layer, and this will be addressed in the project.

Advanced Design Concepts: The aim of the FULL SPECTRUM project is to increase conversion efficiency of solar cells by using more of the available energy of the sun. For example, the theoretical maximum efficiency of a single junction solar cell is about 40%, but if several cells are stacked on top of each other, the theoretical maximum efficiency increases to 86%. This "multi-junction" concept is just one example of how researchers are developing solar cell technologies of the future. Other advanced concepts include thermo-photovoltaics, intermediate band solar cells and molecular based concepts.

Standards: The European Commission’s Joint Research Centre DG JRC develops standards and carries out validation and verification of photovoltaic technologies for the development of 3rd generation photovoltaic technology. 65% of the world photovoltaic industry relies on DG JRC calibrations which reflects a sales value of €3 billion.

Hydrogen and fuel cells

Hydrogen and fuel cells offer outstanding potential to improve sustainability compared to today’s energy systems and €115 million are available under the Sixth Framework Programme to support their development. Hydrogen is an energy carrier that can be produced from any primary energy source. Fuel cells are very efficient, intrinsically clean energy converters when fuelled by hydrogen. They can also be fuelled by a variety of conventional fuels and can therefore facilitate transition from today’s largely carbon-based energy systems, to more sustainable energy systems based on carbon-free and carbon-neutral sources, such as bio-mass and other renewable energy sources. Research in this area is designed to address key technology bottlenecks such as fuel cell durability and costs, hydrogen storage for transport, as well as socio-economic research to support policy-making.

Developing a European Hydrogen Energy Roadmap: The HyWAYS project looks to evaluate the economic, energetic and environmental impact of different options for producing and using hydrogen as an energy carrier and fuel in power systems for stationary and transport applications. The project brings together government agencies, research institutes and industry to combine industry-generated technological performance data with socio-/techno-/ economic analysis. This process of evaluation and recommendations should lead to a “European Hydrogen Energy Roadmap”.

The extensive stakeholder consultation ensures the relevance of the Roadmap by taking into account not only technological but also institutional, geographical and socio-economic issues in different member states. The Roadmap will provide useful input to policy decisions concerning the introduction of hydrogen and fuel cells through an analysis of cost-effective policy measures.

Identifying technology gaps: The Roads2HyCom project assesses and monitors Hydrogen and Fuel Cell technologies for stationary and mobile energy applications against current and future infrastructures, and the needs of communities which may be early adopters of the technology. It will look how current mainstream technologies can evolve to meet future needs. It will identify gaps and opportunities in technologies and infrastructure, and related economic issues and contribute to the engagement and planning of “Hydrogen Communities” to promote technology development and creation. A very wide stakeholder base will be invited to contribute to the project via "reference groups".

Working together as a sector: Hydrogen, with fuel cells as its primary application, is now widely recognised as a flexible and environmentally friendly energy carrier, which reduces greenhouse gas emissions, improves local air quality and enhances security of energy supply. As an energy carrier, hydrogen has particularly importance for the transport sector. The European Commission has supported the creation of the Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology Platform, bringing together all the major players from the hydrogen sector, from industry, research institutes, public authorities, NGOs, with the support of the European Commission, to establish a common research agenda for the sector.

Testing the technology: The Commission’s in-house research body, the Joint Research Centre, covers pre-normative performance assessment and validation of hydrogen storage and fuel cell technologies in terms of efficiency, safety, reliability and environmental impact for stationary and transport applications. On 7 July, 2005, European Science and Research Commissioner Janez Potočnik opened two new hydrogen and fuel cell testing facilities at DG JRC’s site at Petten in the Netherlands. The facilities allow the simulation of lifetime operational conditions of fuel cells and hydrogen fuel tanks (e.g. the repeated filling of hydrogen tanks in cars; performance of fuel cells under vibrations and temperatures between -40 and +60oC)

Reducing CO2 emissions

€65 million are available from the Sixth Framework Programme to support research into the reduction, capture and storage of carbon dioxide emissions.

Making coal power plants more efficient: A project financed under the Fifth Framework Programme, AD700, looks at how substantial efficiency improvement could be achieved in coal power plants by increasing the steam temperatures and pressures in a non-incremental manner. It was a precursor of integrated projects with over 30 partners involved, quite unusual for an FP5 project. The project derives its name from the objective to increase live steam temperatures from the current 580°C up to 700°C and simultaneously increase the steam pressure to supercritical values (above 250 bars).Such steam parameters hold the promise of coal based generation efficiencies above 55% by 2015. It requires the development and extensive testing of new types of steels, as well as a rethinking of the conceptual design of the power plants themselves.

Monitoring the storage of CO2: The SACS2 project, also from FP5, looked at monitoring techniques that can be used to observe the behaviour of CO2 injected in large quantities in deep saline aquifers (underground reservoirs). The SLEIPNER project, a commercial initiative lead by STATOIL, stores about 1 million tons of CO2 in a deep saline aquifer under the North Sea. SACS2 helped understand the faith of the CO2 as it is stored and allowed to predict its long term behaviour, to ensure that it will remain safely stored for several thousands years, so that the storage makes sense to mitigate climate change.

Bringing the industry together: the European Commission has been behind the launch of a Technology Platform for Zero Emission Fossil Fuel Power Plants. This body will bring together energy companies, equipment suppliers, users, consumers, financial institutions, regulators, public authorities, researchers and civil society to develop common research goals, with the aim of a future where the use of power plants that emit no climate-damaging greenhouse gases is widespread. Through its common vision and strategic research agenda, the Technology Platform will identify and remove obstacles to the creation of such power plants, technological, financial and regulatory.

Distributed generation

When considering renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, with a large number of small energy sources distributed over a large area, it is important to consider how the energy generated will be distributed. The technologies and systems required are obviously very different to those necessary to distribute energy from one large source, such as a coal-fired power plant. The Sixth Framework Programme makes €50 million available for such research.

Large-scale implementation of distributed energy resources in Europe: A group of eight leading European energy utilities have joined forces to remove, over five years, most of the technical and non-technical barriers which prevent a massive deployment of renewable energy sources and distributed generation in Europe. In partnership with manufacturers, research organisations, professionals, national agencies and a bank, they follow a demand-pull rather than technology-push approach. This new approach will provide five "fast-tracks options" to speed up the large-scale implementation of renewables in Europe, by defining five market segments which will benefit from these new solutions, and fostering the R&D required to adapt these new technologies to the demands of these segments.
Helping energy networks to be more flexible: The objective of this new project is to boost DER (Distributed Energy Resources) by maximizing their contribution to the electric power system, through aggregation into Large Scale Virtual Power Plants and decentralized management. To achieve this, an advanced distributed control system architecture will be designed and an appropriate communication and information infrastructure will be developed to enable distributed control. An appropriate market and commercial structure will need to be also investigated to support exchange of services among all actors.

Item source: MEMO/06/109 Date: 08/03/2006

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