ACHEMA 2012: Energy storage - the hot topic facing chemical engineers

Paul Boughton
Around 4000 global exhibitors from 50 countries are anticipated to attract about 180 000 visitors from more than 90 countries to ACHEMA 2012.

Featuring 140,000 m3 of exhibition space ACHEMA 2012 will run alongside an international congress featuring 900 lectures focused on state-of-the-art developments.

ACHEMA 2012 will take place at Frankfurt Messe exhibition in Frankfurt am Main, Germany from 18 to 22 June 2012.

ACHEMA 2012's organiser DECHEMA (The German Society for Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology) is once again predicting a significant influx of visitors from China, India and South Korea including a number of government delegations.

The previous ACHEMA event saw a rise of 30 per cent in visitor numbers from outside Germany. There was also a 20 percent increase in non-German exhibitors. The number of Asian companies exhibiting saw a 100 percent increase. ACHEMA's Special Show in 2012 will focus on the theme of Innovative Energy Carriers and Storage principally because modern day life is increasingly becoming dependent on the all pervasive need for ever more efficient energy storage.

Many of the common daily activities in are now increasingly impacted by energy storage in some shape or form. Energy storage and how energy is transferred from one device or system to another is key to a wide range of daily activities. Whether you are simply making a mobile phone call, downloading data from the internet onto your tablet device, checking your emails on your laptop or braking hard in your car more often than not all of these mundane yet essential activities depend on energy being released from some storage device be it a battery, an ultracapacitor or an interactive energy harvesting system.

Innovations in energy storage and transfer are rapidly developing to try and match the non-stop global appetite for energy on the move. The "Innovative Energy Carriers and Storage" Special Show will provide the perfect platform for those looking to witness first hand some of the exciting innovations and progress that is being made in this field of technology. The Special Show is aiming to trigger plenty of discussions on fresh ideas and new concepts that are now increasingly making chemists and engineers have to face up to the numerous technical challenges posed by thermal and electrical energy storage technologies. It is clear for many applications the energy supplies of the future, based on a soaring share of renewable sources, are demanding entirely new solutions.[Page Break]

Energy production in wind energy parks, wave power systems and solar cell or photovoltaic power plants all create a strong demand for R&D in chemical engineering disciplines. Innovations in catalysis and especially in the entire field of electrochemistry are no less needed than advances in the management of heat flows.

A small selection of issues calling for solutions in the short to medium term include:

- How can we optimise the efficiency of water electrolysis for the generation of hydrogen as a chemical storage medium, particularly under variable loads?

- How can we develop stationary batteries with dimensions exceeding those currently used for mobile applications by several orders of magnitude?

- Which materials are best suited for a thermal storage device, an important component of adiabatic gas pressure storage systems?

A rising share of energy solutions feature renewable solutions such as wind power, wave power or photovoltaics which all face a variety of challenges posed by how best to store and harness fluctuating power. For this reason many of the energy supplies of the future will require considerably higher storage capacities to accommodate both peak loads and the total energy stored.

Physical storage technologies, such as compressed air in large underground caverns or conventional storage power stations, are undoubtedly the cheapest options but they offer limited capacity benefits.

Although large-format batteries are starting to become a more viable option than they were just a few years ago there is still a lot of scope for improved performance. In Japan, large sodium-sulphur batteries have already been installed as storage devices to support a wind power plant. Lithium-ion batteries could theoretically provide a workable solution but short-circuiting problems still need to be resolved before a practical solution can be assured.

Other practical issues that need solving focus on energy containment technologies. Providing compact, space-saving solutions is vital. For example, housing of control units requires a considerable amount of space even when they are installed directly next to a wind power plant or a photovoltaic array.

There are also a variety of complex chemical energy storage challenges that need to be resolved. In situ hydrogen production by electrolysis may initially appear to be an obvious solution. But is hydrogen really a suitable primary storage medium?

The costs of transporting hydrogen, the energy losses in the production chain from the electrolytic cell via compression and transport through to its re-conversion into electricity currently exceed 70 per cent.

There is also the issue of deploying the necessary infrastructure. How realistic is it to install millions of hydrogen-powered fuel cells for domestic use? Production of methanol or ethanol may be a more attractive option for vast countries with a less well developed energy infrastructure, such as China, India or Brazil. In other countries methane may well become the storage system of choice, particularly if they already have a (natural) gas network.

Biomass could be directly integrated into the system as bio natural gas, and more so, once efficient processes for converting lignocellulosic materials into biogas have been discovered.

Whatever energy storage requirements and transportation demands you face there is no doubt that the Innovative Energy Carriers and Storage Special Show will be one of the best ways of examing the multi-faceted energy storage challenges that we all face. The Special Show will help you quickly gain a global perspective of how best to resolve these fast-moving issues.

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