New atlas shows glob­al pow­er-to‑X poten­tial for the first time

Many regions of the world offer good con­di­tions for the pro­duc­tion of green hydro­gen as well as regen­er­a­tive­ly gen­er­at­ed syn­thet­ic fuels. The first glob­al pow­er-to‑X atlas, which has now been pre­sent­ed by the Fraun­hofer Insti­tute for Ener­gy Eco­nom­ics and Ener­gy Sys­tem Tech­nol­o­gy IEE, shows how large the respec­tive poten­tials are in detail. The eval­u­a­tion of the tech­ni­cal and eco­nom­ic poten­tial is based on exten­sive analy­ses of, for exam­ple, land avail­abil­i­ty and weath­er con­di­tions. The researchers also took into account fac­tors such as local water avail­abil­i­ty, nature con­ser­va­tion, invest­ment secu­ri­ty and trans­port costs. The PtX Atlas will be avail­able online from 1 June 2021.

Great hopes rest on syn­thet­ic fuels pro­duced with green hydro­gen: They are to replace fos­sil ener­gies in indus­try, trans­port and oth­er areas. Like many oth­er coun­tries, Ger­many attach­es great impor­tance to these PtX ener­gy sources in its cli­mate policy.

But where could the CO2-neu­tral fuels be pro­duced sus­tain­ably, at what cost and in what quan­ti­ty — and what are the costs of export­ing them? This is now pre­sent­ed in detail in the world’s first PtX atlas by Fraun­hofer IEE. In their study, the experts focused on loca­tions out­side the Euro­pean Eco­nom­ic Area. The PtX atlas was cre­at­ed as part of the DeVKop­Sys project fund­ed by the Ger­man Fed­er­al Min­istry for the Envi­ron­ment. The aim of the project is to sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly inves­ti­gate devel­op­ment paths in the trans­port sec­tor that are com­pat­i­ble with the cli­mate pol­i­cy goals of the Fed­er­al Gov­ern­ment in feed­back with oth­er sec­tors of the ener­gy system.

“Our atlas shows that in many regions of the world, large quan­ti­ties of PtX ener­gy car­ri­ers can be pro­duced regen­er­a­tive­ly and export­ed in the long term — although there are def­i­nite­ly con­sid­er­able dif­fer­ences from loca­tion to loca­tion,” says Nor­man Ger­hardt, Head of Ener­gy Eco­nom­ics and Sys­tems Analy­sis at Fraun­hofer IEE. How­ev­er, he qual­i­fies: “Despite the great poten­tial, green hydro­gen and green syn­thet­ic fuels can only ever be sup­ple­men­tary. Increas­ing ener­gy effi­cien­cy and direct use of renew­able elec­tric­i­ty must always be a priority.”

“With the atlas, inter­est­ed par­ties can, among oth­er things, call up the areas that could be con­sid­ered for PtX, the full load hours and pos­si­ble gen­er­a­tion quan­ti­ties that can be achieved there, the respec­tive pro­duc­tion costs for the var­i­ous PtX ener­gy sources, as well as the costs for their trans­port to Europe,” explains Max­i­m­il­ian Pfen­nig from Fraun­hofer IEE, who devel­oped the PtX atlas.

Suf­fi­cient quan­ti­ties for remain­ing needs

In their study, the researchers come to the con­clu­sion that in the long term a total of around 109,000 ter­awatt hours of liq­uid green hydro­gen and 87,000 ter­awatt hours of syn­thet­ic fuels (pow­er to liq­uids, or PtL) could be pro­duced out­side Europe. Real­is­ti­cal­ly, how­ev­er, only part of this total poten­tial can be tapped — among oth­er things, because in some places there is insuf­fi­cient invest­ment secu­ri­ty or because the nec­es­sary infra­struc­ture is lacking.

If these fac­tors are tak­en into account, how­ev­er, the con­vert­ible poten­tial is still 69,100 ter­awatt hours of hydro­gen or 57,000 ter­awatt hours of PtL. By way of com­par­i­son, a total of at least 6,700 ter­awatt hours of PtL will be required for glob­al avi­a­tion in 2050, and 4,500 ter­awatt hours for glob­al shipping.

If the avail­able quan­ti­ties are extrap­o­lat­ed to Ger­many accord­ing to the cur­rent share of the world pop­u­la­tion, 770 ter­awatt hours of hydro­gen or 640 ter­awatt hours of PtL are avail­able. “That’s enough to meet the remain­ing fuel and heat­ing needs — pro­vid­ed ener­gy effi­cien­cy and direct elec­tric­i­ty use are absolute pri­or­i­ties at all times,” Ger­hardt says.

Trans­port is an impor­tant cost factor

When cal­cu­lat­ing the eco­nom­ic poten­tial of the indi­vid­ual loca­tions, the researchers took into account not only the LCOE of renew­able ener­gies and the effi­cien­cy of the PtX process­es, but also, among oth­er things, periph­er­al, stor­age and trans­port costs.

The sci­en­tists come to the con­clu­sion that loca­tions with good con­di­tions for wind ener­gy and, if pos­si­ble, in com­bi­na­tion with pho­to­voltaics, have the low­est gen­er­a­tion costs. In con­trast, pho­to­volta­ic-based PtX gen­er­a­tion costs are high­er in loca­tions with low­er wind ener­gy resources. How­ev­er, for hydro­gen in par­tic­u­lar, depend­ing on the loca­tion, the costs of trans­port to Ger­many are a deci­sive fac­tor and part­ly over­com­pen­sate for the dif­fer­ences in location.

The atlas also shows that it is often more cost-effec­tive to pro­duce fuels such as PtL for the Euro­pean mar­ket direct­ly where the green hydro­gen is pro­duced instead of in Europe on the basis of import­ed hydro­gen. These syn­the­sis prod­ucts are sig­nif­i­cant­ly cheap­er to trans­port andCO2 can be recov­ered for fur­ther pro­cess­ing at these sites by means of air sep­a­ra­tion. In order to trans­port hydro­gen over long dis­tances, it has to be liq­ue­fied, which con­sumes a lot of ener­gy and thus incurs costs. In addi­tion, there are evap­o­ra­tion loss­es of the liq­ue­fied gas­es dur­ing transport.

North African coun­tries could sup­ply hydrogen

Which coun­tries and regions are suit­able export part­ners for Europe must be con­sid­ered on a case-by-case basis. Coun­tries with high gen­er­a­tion poten­tial and favourable socio-eco­nom­ic con­di­tions, such as the USA and Aus­tralia, could sup­ply large quan­ti­ties of PtX ener­gy car­ri­ers. How­ev­er, domes­tic demand is like­ly to be strong, espe­cial­ly in the USA, which reduces the export poten­tial. Due to the long trans­port dis­tances, it would also not make eco­nom­ic sense to export green hydro­gen from these coun­tries to Europe.

Coun­tries clos­er to Europe, such as Egypt or Libya, would in prin­ci­ple also be able to sup­ply large vol­umes of PtX — and also green gaseous hydro­gen, since the trans­port dis­tances are com­par­a­tive­ly short. How­ev­er, socio-eco­nom­ic con­di­tions are worse in these coun­tries. The invest­ment risks are there­fore high­er, which also increas­es the financ­ing costs. This reduces the like­li­hood of large-scale PtX projects being imple­ment­ed there.


The PtX Atlas will be released to all on the project web­site on 1 June 2021.

On June 2, 2021, 10 — 11 a.m., sci­en­tists and the inter­est­ed pub­lic will have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to be intro­duced to the atlas and its func­tions in a live hands-on ses­sion and to go into deep dive with the devel­op­ers and ask ques­tions direct­ly. To the registration.

Back­ground paper on the Pow­er-to‑X Atlas