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WIREs Energy Environ.
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Comparison of synthetic natural gas production pathways for the storage of renewable energy

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The production of synthetic natural gas (SNG) to store renewable energy in a chemical energy carrier can be accomplished basically through three main production pathways: the biochemical (biogas upgrade), thermochemical (gasification and synthesis gas upgrade) and electrochemical (‘Power‐to‐Gas’) pathway. The technologies applied in these concepts are described and the three pathways are compared in terms of their state of development, efficiencies, and economics. While the biochemical pathway is already established on a commercial scale, the thermochemical and electrochemical routes are still in the pilot‐plant phase. Biochemical production of SNG reaches efficiencies in the range of 55–57% but with a potential of above 80%. In comparison, higher efficiencies of up to 70% for the thermochemical pathway are currently expected, with future improvement up to 75%. Electrochemical production achieves efficiencies in the range of 54–60% with expected potential up to 78%. Therefore at the moment the highest efficiencies are given for the thermochemical pathway followed by the electrochemical and biochemical pathways. Economic evaluation is done by comparing specific production costs as well as mean specific investment costs for SNG. Generally speaking, specific production and investment costs decrease with time horizon and increasing scale of the plant. Specific production cost levels in €ct/kWhSNG vary between 5.9 and 13.7 (biochemical), 5.6 and 37 (thermochemical), and 8.2 and 93 (electrochemical). Thus, none of the concepts can compete with today's natural gas prices, but all options are able to provide valuable assistance for a sustainable transition of the energy system. WIREs Energy Environ 2016, 5:327–350. doi: 10.1002/wene.189 This article is categorized under: Bioenergy > Economics and Policy Energy Systems Economics > Systems and Infrastructure
Relative permeation rate of biogas molecules.
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Simplified amine scrubbing process flowsheet (adapted from Ref ).
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Simplified process scheme for biochemical SNG production.
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Natural gas prices in Japan, the European Union and the United States, 1992 to 2012.
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Historic development of power production from natural gas and biogas in the European Union (own illustration based on Ref for EU 28).
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Natural gas consumption per sector in the EU in the year 2011.
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Mean specific investment costs for SNG production via the three different pathways.
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Mean specific production costs for SNG produced via the three pathways with trend lines.
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Overview of specific biochemical SNG production costs in €ct/kWhSNG with varying time horizons (year), plants scales (SNG output) and CO2‐separation technologies. PSA, pressure swing adsorption; PWS, pressurized water scrubbing; AS, amine scrubbing; OLS, organic liquid scrubbing; ME, membrane separation.
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Comparison of energy input and output of the three SNG pathways [LTEL/HTEL = low/high temperature electrolysis, EFG = entrained flow gasification, (FI)CFB = (fast internally) circulating fluidized bed gasification, CGC/HGC = cold/hot gas cleaning, PWS = pressurized water scrubbing, AS = amine scrubbing)].
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Dynamic operation of 250 kW methanation unit.
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Exemplary experimental characteristic U‐j‐curves for AEL (Casale Chemicals, 25 kW, 20 bar, 70°C), PEMEL (Giner, 5.6 kW, 7 bar, 58°C) and HTEL (single cell test, 1 bar, 750°C).
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Simplified process scheme for electrochemical SNG production.
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Typical process flowsheet of the Bio‐TREMP process by Haldor Topsøe (adapted from Ref ).
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Lurgi methanation process flowsheet (adapted from Ref ).
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Gasifier types. Entrained flow (left), fixed bed (middle), and fluidized bed (right) gasifier.
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Simplified process scheme for thermochemical SNG production.
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