Energy generation and the need for fuels

energy generation
©iStock/Olivier Le Moal

IPG’s ceramic and flameless microturbine combines up to 57% CO2 emission reductions in energy generation, with up to 76% cost reductions.

Public understanding of climate change has improved significantly, with a growing number of people now recognising it as the single largest existential threat to global society. The impact upon our food, water, energy generation systems and transport networks, along with the resulting effects on global migration, will be catastrophic if we do not dramatically reduce our carbon emissions by at least 30% across all industries by 2030.

The good news is that the political and social will for change is there. We now need to provide the technological tools for change – but that change must support economic activities by enabling organisations to continue conducting their business as usual, just without the damage to our environment. Consumers, companies, local and national governments are all actively looking for solutions; which need to be implemented rapidly and at scale.

As a principal foundation of modern life, economic growth and social development, the energy sector is a key focus. Over the coming decades the energy sector will be dominated by a transition to greater and more diverse sources of renewable generation, underpinning clean change across industries; in particular, transportation. However, these decentralised and distributed generation sources bring further challenges with them: intermittency, balancing; and time to take effect. All of these can be solved or supported by access to clean, dependable on-demand energy sources. The reality we face is that we still need fuel-based generation alongside renewables, but there is a much better way of doing it.

An evolving energy sector

We are starting to see the beginnings of a definitive transition towards low carbon energy; but today, clean sources account for around 10% of global energy demand. A primary limitation to greater integration of renewable energy generation is that renewables are principally not ‘demand responsive’, but ‘availability responsive’; only generating when the wind is blowing, or the sun is shining. A fact that produces incompatibilities with households, businesses, and industry whom require power when they need it. Smart grids, off peak incentivisation and energy storage will be a fundamental part of our future energy infrastructure, but alone cannot provide the whole answer.

Further pressure is created as transport goes electric. The energy and transport sectors have developed their own independent infrastructures, meaning fleets of millions of vehicles are parked at locations that have limited access to the electricity grid. Within towns and cities, the ‘built environment’ presents a costly challenge to upgrading our energy networks to serve EV ambitions within our communities. Transport is creating greater demand in an entirely new way. The result is to compound the challenges of intermittent renewables.

For these reasons, projections indicate the global energy mix will be heavily dependent on gas and oil up to 2040 (up to as much as 53%). What will change however, is the role fuel-based generation will increasingly play; acting in support of renewables with dependable ‘demand responsive’ power. The question, is whether our existing large scale, centralised powerplants are right for this job?

The need for clean, distributed, fuel-based generation

Electricity networks across the globe were not designed for the changes we are implementing. Distributed renewable generation creates localised and highly variable balancing challenges, which centralised fuel-based power plants, at great distances away, are ill equipped to support. The efficiency benefit of centralised power is rapidly lost when plant output is reduced from peak capacity, only worsening emissions in a world where fuel is needed to support intermittent renewables.

The ideal solution, alongside renewables, is a complementary network of distributed fuel-based generation assets. Providing power when and where it is needed, to support renewables, regardless of the application; whether that is putting power into the grid or for captive power to industry, businesses or even electric vehicle (EV) charging.

The problem has traditionally been that small scale fuel-based generation suffers dramatic efficiency loss compared to centralised plants and brings substantial harmful pollutant emissions to the point of use. Moreover, available solutions are fuel-specific, reducing applicability across geographies and limiting the adoption of clean alternative fuels. The result is to create dirtier, more expensive power, clearly not a solution at all.

IPG’s ceramic flameless turbine

Intelligent Power Generation (IPG) has solved these challenges by bringing the efficiency of centralised power to the microscale. IPG’s ceramic, flameless microturbine technology is designed to be deployed in 100kW modules, each with 51% efficiency. Delivering not only substantial emissions benefits, but also dramatically reducing costs by between 40% and 76%.

The high temperature ceramics at the heart of IPG’s technology enables delivery of 51% electrical efficiency in 100kW modules: a 45% increase over typical diesel or gas gensets, operating at a comparable level of efficiency to massive combined cycle gas power plants. Whether a system contains a single module, or 200 in a 20MW plant, IPG offers unrivalled fuel usage and emission reductions. The high efficiency of IPG’s turbine system not only cuts CO2 emissions by 57%, but the innovative use of flameless combustion eliminates harmful pollutant emissions, such as NOx, CO, and particulate matter. IPG’s modular and mobile power solutions are therefore able to operate in urban environments, where high emissions will prohibit traditional gensets.

While the CO2 savings offered by IPG’s technology – which operates on natural gas – are substantial, that is not where the savings stop. The flameless combustion technology is inherently designed to be fuel flexible from the same design, enabling adoption of net zero carbon biofuels, or even zero carbon fuels such as hydrogen, as they become available. In order to make the most effective impact, IPG’s solutions are designed for mass manufacture. Low cost materials, injection mouldable ceramics and intelligent design all mean IPG can offer solutions at the same cost as gas gensets available today, while removing barriers to emissions reductions.

For every 100MW (the power needed by 240,000 European homes or 70,000 US homes) operating on natural gas, IPG can reduce CO2 emissions by 360,000 tonnes per annum (equivalent to 53,000 cars removed from the road). If the IPG system operates on ethanol or biogas, the CO2 reduction is 600,000 tonnes per annum per 100MW (equivalent to 88,000 cars taken off the road). These are pragmatic solutions which can be delivered quickly to obtain quick emissions wins.

Electric vehicle charging

The adoption of EVs presents a ‘chicken and the egg’ scenario of charger availability and demand for charging. However, for businesses to switch to electric vehicles wholesale, upgrading of grid connections can run into the millions and take years to deploy. What is needed is the ability to scale charging capabilities to meet growing EV ambitions, while still gaining meaningful emissions benefits.

IPG’s solution for electric cars and light goods vehicles is a modular power facility providing off-grid rapid charging (50kW – 350kW), producing ultra-low emissions from currently available fuel infrastructure. This solution is focused on logistics companies, bus fleets and centralised public charging hubs. These locations are currently situated where the energy grid is generally not well developed. Fleet depots were chosen for their access to the road networks, not the energy networks. Providing a modular power facility on site enables charging of all vehicles within the time available (typically 10pm to 6am), but importantly resulting in typically a 30% reduction in total cost of ownership for operators.

IPG’s innovation represents a true breakthrough in decentralised power generation, all achieved in only the past three years. A major accomplishment has been the end-to-end development of new ceramic materials that are low cost to produce, have a low carbon manufacturing process, and allow for operation at significantly higher temperatures than exotic alloys, resulting in our higher efficiencies and lower fuel usage per kWh. IPG have tested the technology at 1/5 scale, in component prototypes, to better inform development and is now undertaking full commercial scale prototyping. As IPG moves forward the target is mass deployment in 2023, following early adopter customer trials in 2021.

If you have any interest in IPG’s exciting technology please get in touch.

Daniel Henbest



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