At Hof University of Applied Sciences, a start-up is attracting attention that could provide important solutions for the upcoming mobility revolution: BtX energy Gmbh offers various processes for producing high-quality hydrogen from biomass. In addition to selling turnkey plants for steam reforming of biogas, the young company initially wants to create an overall concept for the regional production and use of green hydrogen for the Hof region – a pioneering undertaking.
Andy Gradel is a trained mechanical engineer and senior engineer at the Institute for Water and Energy Management at Hof University of Applied Sciences (iwe). The 30-year-old, who recently completed his doctorate, has been focusing his research since 2016 on how clean energy and heat can be generated from biomass. In collaboration with his industrial partner, WS – Wärmeprozesstechnik GmbH from Renningen in Swabia, Gradel has now succeeded in developing a new type of wood gasifier over many trials as part of a doctorate in the context of the Technology Alliance of Upper Franconia (TAO).
Award for research
Our gasifier is based on the use of the process’s own charcoal as a tar filter. As a result, we achieve a significantly lower maintenance and at the same time more flexible operation of the plant – measured against the current state of the art. This makes our wood gasifier financially attractive.”Andy Gradel,
Senior Engineer at the Institute for Water and Energy Management at Hof University of Applied Sciences (iwe)
For his research on the process, the Bayreuth native was recently awarded the “Young Academics Award for Bioenergy 2020” as the best young researcher in the field at a specialist conference in Zittau.
Going to market with professionals
Andy Gradel now wants to bring this successful technology to market. Contrary to what one might assume, BtX energy GmbH, newly founded for this reason, is not a nobody in the industry: co-partners are the renowned entrepreneurs Joachim Wünning and Martin Schönfelder, managing directors of WS Wärmeprozesstechnik GmbH, which received the German Environmental Award in 2011 for FLOX® technology (flameless combustion). Also involved are and Prof. Tobias Plessing from Hof University of Applied Sciences. Together, they want to make a contribution to the energy transition.
Hope for biogas industry
In addition to the further development of the wood gasifier to market maturity, the young company will above all bring hydrogen production facilities for biogas plants to the market. A look at the current challenges facing the biogas industry shows how important such inventions are for it: According to expert estimates, the biogas industry faces nothing less than complete extinction in the coming decades. The reason for this is the feed-in tariff for green electricity from these plants, which is limited to 20 years. At present, follow-up contracts often do not allow existing plants to continue operating economically. The players at BtX energy GmbH now want to offer a solution to this problem.
Hydrogen in large quantities possible
While most players in the energy market focus on electrolysis from surplus renewable electricity, the new technology makes turnkey plants for steam reforming of biogas possible. This can be of enormous benefit to the struggling biogas industry.Prof. Dr. – Ing. Tobias Plessing
The complete turnkey solution for biogas reforming is now set to revolutionize the market – in the form of an unobtrusive and space-saving container solution.
“The production costs per kilogram of hydrogen can even be lower than with electrolysis,” the young entrepreneur hopes. Decentralized production would also minimize or, at best, completely avoid the costly and energy-intensive road transport of the hydrogen, which would also have a positive effect on the economic viability of the plant.
Support for operators
In addition to production and sales of the plants, the newly founded company would also like to enable future operators to sell the hydrogen on the markets. Biogas plant operators are, after all, mostly anchored in agriculture and therefore not traditional energy traders, he said. “Making sure that the plant generates enough profit is absolutely essential. BtX energy GmbH meets this challenge as a provider of complete solutions,” says Managing Director Andy Gradel.
From production to sale at the gas pump, use for garbage trucks or in public transport: “Wherever hydrogen can drive the energy turnaround, agriculture, the biowaste recycling industry and many other players can make their contribution: decentralized, immediately convertible, at full load around the clock and with impressively high efficiency due to direct material conversion. We want to support this.”
Concept for the region
The researchers and entrepreneurs also aim to use the Hof region to set up an example concept for the production and use of green hydrogen, which can then be adapted nationally or even internationally. “The region, like most Bavarian regions, is in sum rural and agricultural. This is an ideal prerequisite for outlining and advancing the production and utilization chain of hydrogen from biomass in an exemplary manner. We are currently looking for partners from politics and from the municipal side. Our clear goal is to implement this locally and thus also to advance the mobility turnaround in the Hof region,” says inventor Andy Gradel.