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Cluster in the Research area "Energy – resources, technologies, systems"

Energetic and material use of biomass

The systems analyses in this research field focus normally on the investigation of biomass and biogenic residues and waste materials which are not subject to direct competition with food and feed products.

The comparative analyses and assessments conducted here mainly deal with on innovative technologies for the provision of biogas, biomethane, synthetic fuels (e.g., bioliq® process), and biochar from biomass as well as on their respective use in the heat, power, and mobility sector. Priority is given to technical, economic, and environmentally relevant aspects here. Apart from the direct use of biomass for heat and power generation also competing processes based on fossil energy carriers are included. The central starting point for these technology comparisons are detailed investigations of the potentials and the provision (logistics) of available biomass and/or biogenic residues and waste materials.

Current investigations focus on the carbonization of biomass, detailed analyses of the global biomass supply with an emphasis on overseas transport and accompanying research on the bioliq® process.

Contact: Ludwig Leible Projects: current / completed

Innovative process engineering: Efficiency technologies – power to X – hydrogen

There are, at least in the medium term, no “major solutions” to cope with the great challenge of a sustainable global provision and use of energy. Those scenarios which consider the compliance with climate protection goals and the transformation into a sustainable energy system as feasible are almost always based on the comprehensive exploitation of efficiency potentials.

In order to fulfil these requirements, it is crucial to increase the efficiency of a large number of processes. However, this will not be enough. In fact, new technologies and technology combinations are needed which are based on new resources or types of their use and produce or use established or new final energy sources. It is obvious that comprehensive innovations are necessary for important sectors and fields of application. This is not only true for purely technical attributes like scalability, service life, etc., but in particular for the requested sustainability: Sustainability includes economic, ecological, and social aspects, so it is much more than mere energy efficiency. Sustainability-oriented technology assessment is carried out with system-analytical methods at the systems level, for example for product life cycles or energy supply systems.

So in this context systems analysis is understood as sustainability-oriented technology assessment and aims at:

  • positioning innovative technologies relative to established and new competing technologies: multi-criteria assessment of potential technology contributions to a sustainable supply and use of energy;
  • optimizing actual contributions (“constructive technology assessment”) by identifying:
    • ecological and socio-economic “hot spots” of technologies;
    • optimal fields of application and configuration in competition with and through links to other technologies.

Current subjects of research are photocatalytic CO2 reduction and power-to-X technologies (X = H2, C-based fuels, and basic chemicals). Most of the works are carried out in co-operation with technical partners to accompany R&D and to be able to modify the R&D works at an early stage of technological development with minimized efforts.

Contact: Andreas Patyk

Regional energy and material flow management

Energy and material flow management is an important instrument for a responsible, integrated, and efficient use of resources in line with sustainable development. The increasing interconnection between energy and material flows as well as regional (societal) framework conditions calls for a management system which explicitly allows for these interdependencies.

Management systems require a reasonable interaction with a large number of actors at different levels of decision making: the state, companies, households, and social groups. To this end, different ways of management are examined to use technologies efficiently and effectively – even in changing circumstances. Since global strategies to influence climate change have to be implemented at a local and regional level in the end, these analyses are carried out for selected, typical spatial conditions. The focus here is on the way in which social dynamics can speed up, slow down, or completely thwart the effectiveness and efficiency of measures in interaction with technologies and over time.

Within the research area, two specific interdependencies between energy and material flows are examined.

  • Energy and water
  • Energy and critical metals

Energy-water nexus (in co-operation with the Research area Sustainability and environment)

Wastewater is often still considered as waste even though it contains thermal and chemical energy as well as nutrients. By separating different wastewater streams within buildings (at the point of origin), these resources could be used more efficiently and the heat and fresh water demand of households and the industry could be reduced. In addition, the conventional treatment of wastewater accounts for a considerable share of the municipal energy consumption. Therefore strategies regarding climate change definitively have to include this sector.

Ongoing research of the current energy-water nexus has revealed the complexity related to the transformation of the wastewater, energy, and organic residues infrastructure in urban regions. The possible transformation paths are not only influenced by the existing technical infrastructures, but to a significant extent also by historical, cultural, climatic, natural, and economic factors. Research aims at analyzing the interdependencies between the influencing factors and assessing the sustainability of alternative infrastructure concepts. The variety of factors does not only require (life cycle-based) material flow models but also comparative analyses in different cultural and infrastructural contexts. In concrete terms, possible infrastructure systems and their implementation are investigated with reference to the conditions in existing and new districts in Europe and South America. The Integrative Concept of Sustainable Development (IKoNE) is used for sustainability analysis and assessment.

Energy and critical metals

The transformation of the energy system towards a higher share of renewable energy sources and a reduction of the share of conventional energy sources will have substantial effects on resource requirements: A considerable decrease of the demand for imported fossil fuels can be expected while the demand for critical and/or strategic metals will increase significantly.

The consequences of these changing resource requirements for the energy transition and/or possible energy futures have so far mainly been analyzed in works related to certain sectors, industries, or technologies. However, apart from a few exceptions (e.g., agriculture), these works do not use complex formal models which are suitable to analyze higher-level economic effects and interdependencies. Thus systemic implications (like a possible limitation of certain technologies due to a lack of resources) have hardly been considered. The sufficiently detailed consideration of resource requirements and the way to possibly cover them is challenged by the so far insufficient model tools and the available data. Research aims to identify the systemic, environmental, and strategic effects of changing resource-related material flows and to investigate them with material flow models and input-output models. At first, the focus will be on the electricity sector including transmission grids and energy storage systems where a large number of metals has to be considered. In addition, geographic risks are identified and recommendations for action (e.g., substitution, increased recycling rates) are developed.

Contact: Witold-Roger Poganietz

Energy futures

The transformation of the energy system has become a high-ranking priority on the political agenda of many countries. In response to climate change challenges, main emphasis is on transitioning the energy system from high- to low-carbon energy supply. Besides, the transition process must be in line with other paradigms such as affordability, security of energy, and sustainability targets. Governing the transition process towards a viable future energy system is a challenging task due to matters of complexity, uncertainty, and ambiguity. The future state of the energy system will be the outcome of complex and time-dependent interdependencies between political, societal, technological, and economic conditions on different scales. Key to the successful transition of the energy system is to produce scientific knowledge that serves decision makers, experts, and the public at large as an evidence base for a deeper understanding of the system, providing the basis for designing adequate options and framework settings.

Thus, the epistemic challenge is to identify and assess fundamental changes of the socio-technical energy system status as early and reliably as possible. For this purpose, a wide range of future knowledge methods are at hand, such as, for instance, trend extrapolation and computer simulations, Delphi methods and expert interviews, (context) scenario approaches, cross-impact balance (CIB), and the roadmap concept.

Using the above mentioning approaches the main emphasis of our research in the area of energy futures is on developing a so-called roadsmap concept. The roadsmap approach aims at identifying, disclosing, and updating different possible, probable, and desirable transformation pathways based on both quantitative and qualitative state of the art analyses. While doing so, we are entering new method-oriented territory. This approach shall produce evidence-based future knowledge (including the range of uncertainties) to support decision makers in judging on success (and failure) prospects. In addition, we aim at providing knowledge that serves to assess fundamental changes of the socio-technical energy system status, and thus leads to new system transformation paths.

Exploring energy futures by, for instance, the concept of roadsmaps meets several transformation needs at the science-policy interface. There is, for example, a (normative) requirement to better link the energy system with (generic) social developments and to consider this in scientific policy advice tools and methods. This includes providing a deeper epistemic understanding of dynamic interdependencies between social and energy system-related processes. Identifying interdependencies on different geographical scales and their consequences for the development of the energy transition (e.g. central vs. decentral, flexibility options) may lead to a better understanding of socio-technological systems. In addition, it helps to better link R&D for energy technologies with the modelling work within energy scenario activities.

Contact: Dirk Scheer