Decen­tral­ized and inex­pen­sive: BtX ener­gy GmbH wants to extract green hydro­gen from biomass

At the Hof Uni­ver­si­ty of Applied Sci­ences, a start-up that could pro­vide impor­tant solu­tions for the ener­gy tran­si­tion is attract­ing atten­tion: BtX ener­gy GmbH offers var­i­ous process­es for pro­duc­ing high-qual­i­ty hydro­gen from bio­mass. In addi­tion to the dis­tri­b­u­tion of turnkey plants for steam reform­ing bio­gas, the young com­pa­ny first wants to devel­op an over­all con­cept for the region­al pro­duc­tion and use of green hydro­gen for the Hof region – a ground­break­ing undertaking.


Andy Gradel is a trained mechan­i­cal engi­neer and senior engi­neer at the Insti­tute for Water and Ener­gy Man­age­ment at hof Uni­ver­si­ty of Applied Sci­ences (iwe). The 30-year-old, who recent­ly com­plet­ed his doc­tor­al the­sis, has been work­ing on the ques­tion of how to extract clean ener­gy and heat from bio­mass since 2016. In coop­er­a­tion with his indus­tri­al part­ner, WS — Wärme­prozesstech­nik GmbH from Ren­nin­gen, Swabia, Gradel has now suc­ceed­ed in devel­op­ing a new type of wood car­bu­re­tor through many exper­i­ments as part of a doc­tor­ate in the con­text of the Tech­nol­o­gy Alliance Ober­franken (TAO).

Award for Research
“Our car­bu­re­tor is based on the use of the process’s own char­coal as a tar fil­ter. As a result, we achieve a sig­nif­i­cant­ly low­er main­te­nance and at the same time more flex­i­ble oper­a­tion of the sys­tem – com­pared to the cur­rent state of the art. This makes our wood car­bu­re­tor finan­cial­ly attrac­tive,” explains Andy Gradel. The Bayreuth native was recent­ly award­ed the “Young Aca­d­e­mics Award for Bioen­er­gy 2020” as the best young researcher in the field at a con­fer­ence in Zit­tau for his research on the process.

Mar­ket walk with professionals

Andy Gradel now wants to bring the suc­cess­ful tech­nol­o­gy to the mar­ket. Con­trary to assume, btX ener­gy GmbH, which was found­ed as a result, is no one in the indus­try: the renowned entre­pre­neurs Joachim Wün­ning and Mar­tin Schön­felder, man­ag­ing direc­tors of WS Wärme­prozesstech­nik GmbH, which received the Ger­man envi­ron­men­tal award for FLOX® tech­nol­o­gy (flame­less com­bus­tion) in 2011, are co-part­ners. In addi­tion, Prof. Tobias Pless­ing, Sci­en­tif­ic Direc­tor of the Insti­tute for Water and Ener­gy Man­age­ment (iwe) at the Hof Uni­ver­si­ty of Applied Sci­ences, is involved. Togeth­er, they want to make a con­tri­bu­tion to the ener­gy transition.

Hope for the bio­gas industry

In addi­tion to the fur­ther devel­op­ment of the wood car­bu­re­tor to mar­ket matu­ri­ty, the young com­pa­ny will pri­mar­i­ly launch hydro­gen pro­duc­tion sites for bio­gas plants on the mar­ket. A look at their cur­rent chal­lenges shows how impor­tant such inven­tions are for the bio­gas indus­try: Accord­ing to expert esti­mates, the bio­gas indus­try is threat­ened by a com­plete decom­mis­sion­ing in the com­ing decades. The rea­son for this is the 20-year feed-in tar­iff for green elec­tric­i­ty from these plants. At present, fol­low-up con­tracts often do not allow the exist­ing plants to con­tin­ue oper­at­ing eco­nom­i­cal­ly. The actors of BtX ener­gy GmbH now want to offer the solu­tion to the problem.

Hydro­gen in high quan­ti­ty possible
Hydro­gen is already a wide­ly used raw mate­r­i­al and at the same time an essen­tial ener­gy source of the future. How­ev­er, where and how green hydro­gen can be pro­duced indus­tri­al­ly and in bulk at eco­nom­ic prices remains an unre­solved ques­tion: “While most actors in the ener­gy mar­ket focus on elec­trol­y­sis from the renew­able sur­plus stream, the new tech­nol­o­gy will make turnkey plants for steam reform­ing bio­gas pos­si­ble. This can be of enor­mous ben­e­fit to the strug­gling bio­gas indus­try,” says Prof. Tobias Pless­ing from Hof Uni­ver­si­ty of Applied Sciences.

Space-sav­ing con­tain­er solution
The turnkey com­plete solu­tion for bio­gas reform is now intend­ed to rev­o­lu­tion­ize the mar­ket – in the form of an unob­tru­sive and space-sav­ing con­tain­er solu­tion. “Pro­duc­tion costs per kilo­gram of hydro­gen can even be sig­nif­i­cant­ly low­er than with elec­trol­y­sis,” says the young entre­pre­neur. Decen­tral­ized gen­er­a­tion would also min­i­mize or at best avoid the com­plex and ener­gy-inten­sive road trans­port of hydro­gen, which would also have a pos­i­tive impact on the eco­nom­ic via­bil­i­ty of the plant and the over­all ener­gy bal­ance of the project.

Sup­port for operators

In addi­tion to the pro­duc­tion and dis­tri­b­u­tion of the plants, the new­ly found­ed com­pa­ny also wants to enable future oper­a­tors to sell hydro­gen on the mar­kets. After all, oper­a­tors of bio­gas plants are most­ly anchored in agri­cul­ture and there­fore not clas­sic ener­gy traders. “Ensur­ing that the invest­ment yields enough prof­it is absolute­ly nec­es­sary. BtX ener­gy GmbH is fac­ing this chal­lenge as a provider of com­plete solu­tions,” says Man­ag­ing Direc­tor Andy Gradel. From pro­duc­tion to sales at the pump, use for garbage trucks, agri­cul­tur­al machin­ery or pub­lic trans­port: “Wher­ev­er hydro­gen can dri­ve the ener­gy tran­si­tion, agri­cul­ture, the biowaste recy­cling indus­try and many oth­er actors can make their con­tri­bu­tion: decen­tral­ized, imme­di­ate­ly imple­mentable, around the clock at full load and due to direct mate­r­i­al con­ver­sion with impres­sive­ly high effi­cien­cy. We want to sup­port this.”

Con­cept for the region

The aim of the researchers and entre­pre­neurs is also to use the Hof region togeth­er with the region­al play­ers to devel­op an exam­ple con­cept for the pro­duc­tion and use of green hydro­gen, which can then be adapt­ed nation­al­ly or even inter­na­tion­al­ly. “Like most Bavar­i­an regions, the region is gen­er­al­ly rur­al and agri­cul­tur­al and at the same time dense­ly pop­u­lat­ed with com­pa­nies in the field of logis­tics. This is an ide­al pre­req­ui­site for sketch­ing and advanc­ing an exam­ple of an entire region­al added val­ue of hydro­gen from bio­mass. We are cur­rent­ly look­ing for part­ners from pol­i­tics and the local com­mu­ni­ty. Our clear goal is to imple­ment this on the ground and thus also to pro­mote the mobil­i­ty rev­o­lu­tion in the Hof region,” says Man­ag­ing Direc­tor Andy Gradel. The first plant to demon­strate the func­tion­ing and cost-effec­tive­ness of this project is already under construction.