World’s first cost-efficient green methanol pilot plant inaugurated in Germany

The German research consortium has inaugurated the world’s first pilot plant for the cost-efficient production of green methanol in the Leuna Chemical Park.

Photo: Paul Philipp Braun (Courtesy of Fraunhofer IWES)

The pilot plant was inaugurated on November 20 as part of the Leuna100 project which was launched in the Leuna Chemical Park in August 2023 and is set to run for three years. It is being funded with a total of €10.4 million by the German Federal Ministry for Digital and Transport (BMDV) as part of the Renewable Fuels Funding Program.

The consortium behind the project consists of climate tech start-up C1 Green Chemicals, Fraunhofer Institute for Wind Energy Systems IWES, Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental, Safety and Energy Technology UMSICHT, DBI – Gastechnologisches Institut gGmbH Freiberg, and the Technical University of Berlin (TU Berlin).

The goal is to utilize a fundamentally new production process to enable the cost-efficient market ramp-up of green methanol and thus offer the container shipping industry a climate-neutral alternative fuel.

The Leuna100 project encompasses green methanol production in three steps: synthesis gas production, methanol production, and purification of the crude methanol produced.

For this project, C1 developed a technology that enables efficient low-temperature and low-pressure-based methanol production.

Furthermore, two different technologies coupled for the CO2-based production of synthesis gas are employed. Fraunhofer UMSICHT is providing low-temperature co-electrolysis, while DBI – Gastechnologisches Institut gGmbH Freiberg utilizes a reverse water gas shift (RWGS) unit.

C1 is delivering the catalyst as well as a reactor developed in-house for the homogeneous catalysis of methanol. Fraunhofer IWES is providing the location and infrastructure at the Hydrogen Lab Leuna and evaluating the load flexibility. TU Berlin is developing an efficient, load-flexible operating concept on the basis of a dynamic overall process model.

Attending the inauguration, Minister for Transport, Volker Wissing, said: “Industry history is being written today in Leuna. This project represents a milestone for the post-fossil fuel era in the shipping and aviation industries. We are proud to support this ‘made in Germany’ research project with funds from the Renewable Fuels Funding Program. With its funding program, the BMDV is supporting the further development and market ramp-up of renewable fuels and thus also the achievement of climate goals in the transport sector.”

Christian Vollmann, CEO of C1 Green Chemicals AG, commented: “Our innovative process offers the potential to produce green methanol more cost-effectively. We are delighted to have the opportunity to take our technology to the next level in the scope of the pilot plant and take a decisive step towards the market launch.”

Andreas Reuter, Managing Director Fraunhofer IWES, added: “With our many years of scientific expertise and a complex research infrastructure for renewable energies, including the Hydrogen Lab Leuna, Fraunhofer IWES is the ideal partner for the successful realization of projects for the production of green fuels for the shipping and aviation industries.”

The shipping industry is said to be currently responsible for almost 3% of global annual CO2 emissions. The new climate strategy adopted by the International Maritime Organization this summer envisages reaching the goal of climate neutrality by around 2050. Emissions should be reduced by at least a fifth compared with 2008 by 2030 and even by at least 70% by 2040. Large shipping companies such as Maersk have already ordered methanol-compatible vessels, the first of which are already in use.

October 2023 saw a total of 14 orders for methanol-powered ships recorded as demand for alternative fuels in the maritime industry continues to rise in line with the ever-stringent regulatory landscape, data from DNV’s Alternative Fuel Insights (AFI) database showed.

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