Making fuels from CO2: RWE unveils new synthesis pilot plant in Germany

ALIGN-CCUS’s unique carbon capture and utilisation testing facility powers up

At RWE’s Innovation Centre at Niederaussem power station in Germany, the commissioning of the ALIGN-CCUS Power-to-X-to-Power research facility has started.

The cutting-edge carbon capture and utilisation (CCU) pilot plant will demonstrate the creation of synthetic diesel substitute, dimethyl ether (DME), from captured CO2, electricity and water. The DME synthesis plant has been developed over the past two years as part of ALIGN-CCUS, a multi-partner project funded by Europe and Member States to support the quick and cost-effective deployment of carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS).

The work at Niederaussem by RWE and partners Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems Europe (MHPS) and Asahi Kasei, which also includes research into CO2 capture solvents, aims to help Europe’s industrial and power sectors move towards a low-carbon future while remaining economically viable.

On 19 November, 80 project partners and funders joined RWE at Niederaussem to officially launch the pilot plant and see the new demonstration facility in situ.

The starting point for the DME synthesis is CO2 captured from the flue gas of the adjacent 1000MW lignite-fired block K of the Niederaussem power plant. Since 2009, the post-combustion capture pilot plant has been operating using amine solvents and has achieved more than 80,000 operating hours.

The plant is capturing around 7.2 tonnes of CO2 per day. Up to 180 kilograms of CO2 per day are reacting to create DME and 22kg of hydrogen, which is produced by alkaline electrolysis.

The new synthesis plant is expected to produce up to 50kg of DME per day. Its high energy density makes DME noteworthy for the energy transition in two ways: firstly, as a long-term chemical form of storage for electricity and, secondly, as a climate-friendly fuel for trucks, ships and locomotives, which cannot be electrified. It is also a chemical feedstock for a wide range of applications.

DME is an energy carrier that can supply power when renewable energies are unable to meet demand. From spring 2020, the synthetic fuel will be reconverted into electricity at Niederaussem using an adapted diesel power generator with an output of 240 kWe.

Ferdinand Steffen, Director of Environmental Technology & Sector Coupling at RWE Power, said: “RWE Power is the operator of the unique ALIGN-CCUS test facility, which is an important step on the way to constructing a demonstration plant for cross-sectoral reduction of greenhouse gases.”

Peter Moser, Head of Emission Reduction Technologies at RWE Power, said: “The ALIGN-CCUS Power-to-X-to-Power research facility is an important part of our innovative research at Niederaussem and can provide a decisive contribution to the energy transition and the achievement of global climate protection goals.”

The demonstration plant was developed and built by Duisburg-based project partner, Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems Europe (MHPS), while the electrolyser has been supplied by partner Asahi Kasei Europe. Other ALIGN-CCUS partners directly involved in the realisation of the research facility are FEV Europe, RWTH Aachen University and Forschungszentrum Jülich.

The ALIGN-CCUS testing facility. Front, peak-power generator module; behind, two containers with Asahi Kasei’s electrolyser; back right, three containers with DME synthesis unit from MHPS; back left, open housing for crude DME storage. Photo: RWE


Peter Moser, RWE, at the commissioning of the ALIGN-CCUS Power-to-X-to-Power research facility at Niederaussem, November 2019. Photo: RWE

Dr Hans-Christoph Wirth from the German Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy gives a welcome speech at the inauguration ceremony. Photo: RWE