Chemical reactors tend to be large facilities. Installing large plants takes a long time and is expensive. At the same time, the price of renewable energy depends on the dynamic interaction of the installation of new generation capacity, such as wind and photovoltaics, and the expansion of electricity grids. This can make the establishment of a large chemical plant with the goal of converting electricity to liquid fuels a risky investment, since the availability of cheap renewable energy might change over time in ways difficult to predict. Smaller chemical reactors that can be included in containerized solutions can make decentralized production of synthetic fuels an economically viable option wherever cheap renewable electricity is available.
The innovation of compact chemical reactors has been made possible by microstructuring the reactor, which has enabled the creation of much smaller chemical reactors. Besides being useful for the synthesis of liquid fuels based on renewable energy, these reactors can be applied to a wide range of applications. For example, valuable chemicals can be produced based on gases that might otherwise be wasted at landfills or in industrial processes. This innovation is based on many years of research conducted at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT).
The technology is currently being commercialized by the start-up INERATEC, a spin-off from KIT. This solution has proven its merits in several demonstration projects. INERATEC has won the German Entrepreneur Award 2018. RD&D on the technology has been supported by several research projects funded by the Federal Government of Germany. In addition the start-up INERATEC has been supported by the EXIST programme of the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy.
The solution can enable the decentralized production of chemical energy carriers wherever cheap renewable energy is available. Since much of this renewable energy may otherwise go unused, this solution can contribute significantly to displacing fossil sources of energy and the associated emissions.