Bonn-Rhine-Sieg Uni­ver­si­ty of Applied Sci­ences sim­u­lates trans­port net­work for hydrogen

Hydro­gen pro­duced in a cli­mate-friend­ly man­ner is expect­ed to play a deci­sive role in the ener­gy tran­si­tion and the achieve­ment of cli­mate tar­gets. For this rea­son, the Ger­man gov­ern­ment intends to com­pre­hen­sive­ly devel­op the required tech­nolo­gies in three “hydro­gen lead projects”. An impor­tant point here: the trans­port infra­struc­ture. In the “MechaMod” project, which is part of the “Sys­tem Analy­sis” research net­work of the “Tran­sHyDE” lead project, Bonn-Rhein-Sieg Uni­ver­si­ty of Applied Sci­ences (H‑BRS) is describ­ing and sim­u­lat­ing in detail the behav­ior of impor­tant plants in future hydro­gen net­works and their cou­pling with pow­er grids. It thus cre­ates a basis for fur­ther inves­ti­ga­tions of a net­work infra­struc­ture for hydrogen.

This new net­work infra­struc­ture is to con­sist pri­mar­i­ly of reded­i­cat­ed nat­ur­al gas pipelines. The Fed­er­al Min­istry of Edu­ca­tion and Research is sup­port­ing the project with a total of 624,000 euros over four years.

At present, nat­ur­al gas makes an impor­tant con­tri­bu­tion to the ener­gy sup­ply in Ger­many. Accord­ing to the Fed­er­al Min­istry of Eco­nom­ics, there is a pipeline net­work of 511,000 kilo­me­ters to bring the ener­gy source to indus­try, pow­er plants and oth­er con­sumers (heat­ing, cook­ing). This pipeline net­work con­sists of dif­fer­ent com­po­nents. As gas flows through the pipes, it slows down due to fric­tion and a pres­sure drop occurs. This is why this is com­pen­sat­ed for every 100 to 200 kilo­me­ters in so-called com­pres­sor sta­tions — such as the one in Cologne-Porz. The ques­tion now is whether and how the nat­ur­al gas net­work can also be used to trans­port hydrogen.

In the Sys­tems Analy­sis Research Net­work, a team of more than 20 part­ners sim­u­lates how the net­work infra­struc­ture will devel­op over the years on a Ger­many-wide or local level.

“We describe in sim­u­la­tions what the con­se­quences of tran­sit are in dif­fer­ent dynam­ic sce­nar­ios, espe­cial­ly in terms of region­al capac­i­ties, qual­i­ty, secure sup­ply,” says MechaMod project leader Prof. Dr. Tan­ja Clees, who is a mem­ber of the board of direc­tors of the Insti­tute for Tech­nol­o­gy, Resource Con­ser­va­tion and Ener­gy Effi­cien­cy (TREE) at H‑BRS.

The project focus in MechaMod is on detailed phys­i­cal-chem­i­cal mod­el­ing for all mecha­tron­ic equip­ment in the grid — i.e., from the elec­trol­y­sers (in which water is split into its com­po­nents hydro­gen and oxy­gen) to the com­pres­sor sta­tions and con­trollers, to pos­si­bly con­vert­ed gas and steam pow­er plants. Pos­si­ble fuel cell pow­er plants, which do not yet exist in Ger­many, are also part of the sim­u­la­tions. In these, water is pro­duced from hydro­gen and oxy­gen, and the result­ing ener­gy is used in the form of elec­tric­i­ty and heat.

In its sim­u­la­tions, the uni­ver­si­ty can already build on expe­ri­ence with hydro­gen in indus­try. “This is not a new tech­nique,” says H‑BRS sci­en­tist Clees. For exam­ple, a 240-kilo­me­ter hydro­gen net­work has long linked the chem­i­cal sites in Dor­ma­gen and Lev­erkusen with the Ruhr region. “This shows that peo­ple don’t have to wor­ry about hydro­gen being trans­port­ed through pipelines,” Clees said.

In the MechaMod project, the research pro­fes­sor is now cal­cu­lat­ing dif­fer­ent sce­nar­ios in which sev­er­al ques­tions play a role: How much heat is gen­er­at­ed dur­ing elec­trol­y­sis? In what qual­i­ty is the hydro­gen sent into the pipelines? Are there any oth­er impu­ri­ties in the pass-through? What influ­ence does the com­po­si­tion of the gas have on sys­tems and pres­sure drop? How do the gas and elec­tric­i­ty grids react with each oth­er? “We want to neat­ly describe the behav­ior of hydro­gen and thus lay the foun­da­tion for fur­ther research,” Clees says. The team is also build­ing soft­ware mod­ules that will sub­se­quent­ly serve as the foun­da­tion for the project part­ners’ investigations.

“The pipeline net­work can­not be con­vert­ed to hydro­gen as eas­i­ly on the fly, as is cur­rent­ly the case in parts of Ger­many with the con­ver­sion from low-calorif­ic nat­ur­al gas from the Nether­lands to high-calorif­ic nat­ur­al gas from Nor­way or Rus­sia,” Clees says. What is clear, how­ev­er, is that the entire ener­gy trans­port sys­tem will be rebuilt in the next few years. In con­crete terms, this means that in 2019, an ener­gy demand for indus­try and house­holds amount­ing to a calorif­ic val­ue of 900 ter­awatt hours (TWh; one ter­awatt hour cor­re­sponds to one bil­lion kilo­watt hours) was cov­ered by nat­ur­al gas. By 2050, a pro­ject­ed demand of more than 1,000 ter­awatt hours is to be met half by hydro­gen and half by syn­thet­ic methane or bio­methane. To do that, Clees said, the trans­mis­sion sys­tem would have to be split.
With her research, she is lay­ing a foun­da­tion for the rebuild. At the same time, how­ev­er, she says: “We have to sig­nif­i­cant­ly reduce ener­gy con­sump­tion as a whole, there is no way around it. The cur­rent war in Ukraine and the accom­pa­ny­ing sanc­tions only make this all the more dras­tic for us”.