Import options for chemical energy carriers from renewable sources to Germany

PLoS One. 2023 Feb 9;18(2):e0262340. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0281380. eCollection 2023.


Import and export of fossil energy carriers are cornerstones of energy systems world-wide. If energy systems are to become climate neutral and sustainable, fossil carriers need to be substituted with carbon neutral alternatives or electrified if possible. We investigate synthetic chemical energy carriers, hydrogen, methane, methanol, ammonia and Fischer-Tropsch fuels, produced using electricity from Renewable Energy Source (RES) as fossil substitutes. RES potentials are obtained from GIS-analysis and hourly resolved time-series are derived using reanalysis weather data. We model the sourcing of feedstock chemicals, synthesis and transport along nine different Energy Supply Chains to Germany and compare import options for seven locations around the world against each other and with domestically sourced alternatives on the basis of their respective cost per unit of hydrogen and energy delivered. We find that for each type of chemical energy carrier, there is an import option with lower costs compared to domestic production in Germany. No single exporting country or energy carrier has a unique cost advantage, since for each energy carrier and country there are cost-competitive alternatives. This allows exporter and infrastructure decisions to be made based on other criteria than energy and cost. The lowest cost means for importing of energy and hydrogen are by hydrogen pipeline from Denmark, Spain and Western Asia and Northern Africa starting at 36 EUR/MWhLHV to 42 EUR/MWhLHV or 1.0 EUR/kgH2 to 1.3 EUR/kgH2 (in 2050, assuming 5% p.a. capital cost). For complex energy carriers derived from hydrogen like methane, ammonia, methanol or Fischer-Tropsch fuels, imports from Argentina by ship to Germany are lower cost than closer exporters in the European Union or Western Asia and Northern Africa. For meeting hydrogen demand, direct hydrogen imports are more attractive than indirect routes using methane, methanol or ammonia imports and subsequent decomposition to hydrogen because of high capital investment costs and energetic losses of the indirect routes. We make our model and data available under open licenses for adaptation and reuse.

PMID:36757915 | DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0281380


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