With a strong natural gas pipeline/storage infrastructure but limits on supply sources, Europe is putting more research and development into making synthetic methane from hydrogen, which some energy stakeholders think will be the future means of beefing up natural gas supplies. A number of large utilities are partnering with researchers in Germany who think this has commercial possibilities.

The prospects are rejuvenating gas operators in Europe after recent stagnation relative to the electricity sector.

The concept being pursued starts with hydrogen produced from an advanced hydrolysis process and then combining that hydrogen with carbon dioxide (CO2) to produce synthetic natural gas (syngas). Various small and large research projects are ongoing, according to Ruggero Schleicher-Tappeser, a physicist and independent Berlin-based energy consultant. The applications for the syngas go far beyond power generation, he said.

“The research is very open-ended,” Schleicher-Tappeser said. “You could use the syngas in transportation as a substitute for petroleum like there are efforts ongoing in the United States to switch to natural gas for transportation.”

He said the applications for power generation are considerable, not in large turbines, but in cogeneration facilities. “In Europe we expect a stronger coupling of power generation and heating.”

The idea of expanding the sources of gas through syngas is reinvigorating the gas industry in places like Germany where it has lacked much of a future until only relatively recently, according to Schleicher-Tappeser. “If you talked to gas people [in Europe] two years ago, they were very short-sighted and unsure of what their future was,” he said. “Now Europeans are beginning to see that the natural gas infrastructure is very important in linking the gas and power markets.”

Schleicher-Tappeser thinks European natural gas operators see alternatives to having to rely more heavily on increased supplies from Russia.

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