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Separation of hydrogen from other gas mixtures with membranes

Pilot project in Prenzlau as a practical test for future gas infrastructure

Hydrogen is a crucial source of energy that will in the future combine the electricity and gas infrastructures to form a hybrid energy system. It can be generated using power-to-gas technologies and renewable electricity, mixed in with the natural gas network, transported and made available as needed for applications in mobility, industry and the heating market. For applications that do not tolerate a gas mixture, the hydrogen must be removed again. This applies in particular to industrial customers sensitive to gas quality. To this end, six partners from the gas industry and research are starting the "Membrane separation natural gas-hydrogen Prenzlau" project today - by signing the cooperation agreement. Together, DBI Gas- und Umwelttechnik GmbH (DBI), ONTRAS Gastransport GmbH (ONTRAS), the French gas transmission operator GRTgaz S.A. (GRTgaz), Mitteldeutsche Netzgesellschaft Gas mbH (MITNETZ Gas), and the DVGW German Gas and Water Association. V. (DVGW) and as an associated partner the renewable energy company ENERTRAG AG (ENERTRAG) analyze how hydrogen can be separated from natural gas-hydrogen mixtures using different membranes. To this end, engineers are planning and installing a pilot plant near Prenzlau (Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany) in the coming weeks. The local power-to-gas plant at ENERTRAG also supplies green hydrogen generated from wind power. This is mixed with the natural gas in the ONTRAS network via the existing feed-in system with up to 20 percent by volume.

Photo credit: Peter Eichler
Membrane in laboratory scale - Photo credit: Peter Eichler

In the pilot plant, the partners test which membranes are best suited for the recovery of hydrogen, which quantities can be separated from the gas stream and which degree of purity this hydrogen achieves. The answers to these questions are of crucial importance for the configuration of a future hydrogen economy: Can hydrogen and natural gas be transported as a mixture thanks to membrane technology in the future and thus provide the required gas quantities? Or do only separate hydrogen and mixed gas infrastructures have to be planned? This will be the first time that the plant will undergo a practical suitability test, which can mean significant changes in the direction of a gas infrastructure aimed for in the future.

"As a transmission system operator, we are interested in whether membranes protect conventional gas applications from hydrogen and whether we can cover pure hydrogen requirements with natural gas-hydrogen mixtures from our network," explains Ralph Bahke, ONTRAS Managing Director. "The gas molecules do not stop at the borders, which is why cross-border cooperation is the key to success.“ Therefore Sandrine Meunier, RICE’s Director (RICE is GRTgaz‘ Research Center) stressed: "I am very pleased that RICE can develop its relationship with ONTRAS as part of this partnership. It is vital that network gas operators join forces to meet the many challenges of injecting hydrogen into gas infrastructures, and thus prepare their common future."

The head of technology and innovation management at the umbrella organization DVGW, Frank Gröschl, emphasized: "The existing gas infrastructure offers ideal conditions for absorbing, storing, transporting and distributing hydrogen. To this end, the DVGW is revising the existing regulations. There is further need for research in particular on some applications for end customers, which often require a certain gas quality. Membranes can be the solution for this by separating the hydrogen-natural gas mixture into the two components and thus providing hydrogen in a customer-specific and application-specific manner.” And ENERTRAG CEO Jörg Müller describes the potential of this practical test: "So far, we were only allowed to feed two percent hydrogen into the gas network due to the technical regulations from our hybrid power plant. Membrane technology allows at least ten times the amount - this is a revolution for the storage of renewable energies".

Chafia Baci : chafia.baci(at)grtgaz.com – tél. + 33 1 55 66 44 88