Audi has opened the doors to its new power-to-gas facility, which will make what the automaker calls E-gas, in Werlte, Germany. The plant produces hydrogen and synthetic methane and these clean fuels come from renewable energy, water and carbon dioxide. Audi says it's the first automaker to "develop a chain of sustainable energy carriers."

"The power-to-gas facility we built in Werlte can become a beacon project for the entire energy revolution, far beyond the boundaries of our company," Peter Altmaier, German Federal Minister of the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, said at the inaugural ceremony, as quoted in the Audi press release (available below).

The Audi E-gas plant uses electrolysis to split water molecules into oxygen and hydrogen, which will someday power fuel-cell vehicles. For now, methanation is the process used to make the synthetic natural gas. Audi reacts the hydrogen with CO2 to generate renewable synthetic methane. The E-gas can be delivered through existing natural gas pipes since, chemically speaking, it's nearly identical to natural gas. Delivery of E-gas through the infrastructure is scheduled to start in the fall of 2013.

Audi says E-gas from the plant can power 1,500 new Audi A3 Sportback G-tron vehicles for 15,000 CO2-neutral kilometers (about 9,321 miles) each year. The Werlte plant is part of Audi's comprehensive e-fuels strategy and sustainability initiative. In parallel with the E-gas plant in Werlte, Audi also runs a research facility in Hobbs, NM, for the production of E-ethanol and E-diesel in collaboration with renewable fuel company Joule.

There could be another reason for building the plant beyond sustainability. New vehicle sales in Europe are experiencing a serious downturn. Analysts also say that global OEMs are starting to transform their identities from "automakers" to "mobility companies," so Audi's e-gas plant could cover a few strategic agendas.
World premiere: Audi opens power-to-gas facility
  • Official inauguration of the Audi e-gas plant in Werlte/Emsland
  • e-gas from water, green electricity and carbon dioxide as a climate-friendly replacement for natural gas
  • Audi A3 Sportback g-tron is CO2-neutral when driven on e-gas
Audi opens the e-gas plant in Werlte today making it the first automobile manufacturer to develop a chain of sustainable energy carriers. It begins with green electricity, water and carbon dioxide. The end products are hydrogen and the synthetic methane: Audi e-gas.

"Audi is taking a giant step toward the mobility of the future today," said Heinz Hollerweger, Head of Total Vehicle Development, in his speech at the inauguration. "Audi is the only manufacturer worldwide with such innovative technology. Research into synthetic, environment-friendly fuels is the core of our vigorous e-fuels strategy." Reiner Mangold, Head of Sustainable Product Development, added, "The power-to-gas facility we built in Werlte can become a beacon project for the entire energy revolution, far beyond the boundaries of our company." Peter Altmaier, German Federal Minister of the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, also commended Audi's commitment in his welcoming address.

The e-gas plant works in two process steps: electrolysis and methanation. In the first step, the plant uses surplus green electricity to break water down into oxygen and hydrogen in three electrolyzers. The hydrogen could one day power fuel-cell vehicles. For the time being, however, in the absence of an area-wide infrastructure, a second process step is carried out directly: methanation. The hydrogen is reacted with CO2 to produce synthetic methane, or Audi e-gas. It is virtually identical to fossil natural gas and will be distributed via an existing infrastructure, the German natural gas network, to the CNG filling stations. The plant is scheduled to begin feeding Audi e-gas to the grid in fall 2013.

The Audi e-gas plant will produce about 1,000 metric tons of e-gas per year, chemically binding some 2,800 metric tons of CO2. This roughly corresponds to the amount that a forest of over 220,000 beech trees absorbs in one year. Water and oxygen are the only by-products.

Audi built the e-gas plant in collaboration with the plant construction specialist ETOGAS GmbH (formerly SolarFuel) and its project partner MT-BioMethan GmbH on a 4,100 m2 (44,132.03 sq ft) plot of land owned by EWE AG. Ground was broken in September 2012, and the topping-out ceremony was celebrated in December. The efficient use of energy flows is the top priority in the production sequence of the plant. The waste heat given off during methanation is used as process energy in the adjacent biogas plant, significantly increasing overall efficiency. In return, this plant supplies the highly concentrated CO2 required as a basic building block for the e-gas. This CO2 thus serves as a raw material and is not emitted to the atmosphere.

It is anticipated that the e-gas from Werlte will power 1,500 new Audi A3 Sportback g-tron vehicles for 15,000 kilometers (9,320.57 miles) of CO2-neutral driving every year. The 1.4 TFSI in the five-door model can burn natural gas, biomethane and Audi e-gas; with its bivalent design it can also use gasoline. This gives it a total range of some 1,300 kilometers (807.78 miles).

Customers can order a quota of e-gas when they purchase the car. This enables them to take part in an accounting process that ensures that the amount of gas that they put in their vehicle at the natural gas filling station is supplied to the grid by the Audi e-gas plant. Payment and billing is handled via the Audi e-gas refueling card.

The Audi A3 Sportback g-tron, which is scheduled for launch late this year, consumes on average less than 3.5 kg (7.72 lb) e-gas per 100 kilometers (62.14 miles). CO2 tailpipe emissions are less than 95 grams per km (152.89 g/mile) in the NEDC. Driving with Audi e-gas is climate-neutral, since the CO2 generated when the vehicle is driven had been bound previously during the production of the e-gas. Even in a comprehensive wheel-to-well analysis that includes the construction and operation of the e-gas plant and the wind turbines, CO2 emissions are just 20 grams per kilometer (32.19 g/mile). The groundbreaking environmental footprint was recently certified by TÜV Nord.

The Audi e-gas project transcends the automobile industry. It shows how large amounts of green electricity can be stored efficiently and independently of location by transforming it into methane gas and storing it in the natural gas network, the largest public energy storage system in Germany. With the e-gas project, Audi is a part of and a driver of the energy revolution. Major German energy utilities have since taken up the idea of power-to-gas cogeneration and are following Audi with initial projects of their own.

The e-gas project is part of Audi's comprehensive e-fuels strategy. In parallel with the e-gas plant in Werlte, Audi also operates a research facility in Hobbs, New Mexico, USA, for the production of e-ethanol and e-diesel in collaboration with Joule. At this facility, microorganisms use water (brackish, salt or wastewater) sunlight and carbon dioxide to produce high-purity fuels. The strategic goal of these projects is to use CO2 as a raw material for fuels and thus improve the overall footprint substantially. The e-fuels strategy is an important pillar of Audi's sustainability initiative.


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  • 19 Comments
      Dave
      • 1 Year Ago
      "The ETs who visit us every day travel many times faster than the speed of light, they don't have to work and they live completely without disease. I think that's just a tad better than what a moron in an oversized pickup truck has now.." my brain hurts
      • 2 Months Ago
      THIS IS AWESOME ...U ARE NOT GOING TO HEAR ANY OF THIS HAPPENING HERE ALONG AS WE THE OIL & GAS MOGULS HERE..IT IS SHAME TOO AMERICANS GET OFFY OUR ASS & PROTEST
      Giza Plateau
      • 1 Year Ago
      Not sure what they are thinking with this project. If they think they can somehow fool people into thinking their usual combustion engine cars are green because of this. If so they are even dumber than I thought.
        Dave
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Giza Plateau
        "The hydrogen could one day power fuel-cell vehicles. For the time being, however, in the absence of an area-wide infrastructure, a second process step is carried out directly: methanation."
        Jim
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Giza Plateau
        Maybe I missed the part where hydrogen and methane have anything to do "usual" combustion engine cars...
          Letstakeawalk
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Jim
          The hydrogen is turned into methane, which sequesters CO2. That methane is injected into the natural gas grid. An Audi G-Tron owner then fuels their car from the natural gas grid: "Customers can order a quota of e-gas when they purchase the car. This enables them to take part in an accounting process that ensures that the amount of gas that they put in their vehicle at the natural gas filling station is supplied to the grid by the Audi e-gas plant. Payment and billing is handled via the Audi e-gas refueling card." The G-Tron owner's purchase of methane from the grid is effectively carbon neutral, minus the carbon used to build the plant and the wind turbines. "Driving with Audi e-gas is climate-neutral, since the CO2 generated when the vehicle is driven had been bound previously during the production of the e-gas. Even in a comprehensive wheel-to-well analysis that includes the construction and operation of the e-gas plant and the wind turbines, CO2 emissions are just 20 grams per kilometer (32.19 g/mile). The groundbreaking environmental footprint was recently certified by TÜV Nord." This is much cleaner than just fueling up with natural gas from fossil sources.
        paulwesterberg
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Giza Plateau
        It is easy to sell this fantasy because people want to believe that they can continue to live the same wasteful lazy lifestyle without any inconvenience or sacrifice.
      imoore
      • 1 Year Ago
      So Tesla decides to sell its cars directly to the public while bypassing the dealership network, and all the dealers are crying foul. Now Audi is building its own energy/fuel processing facilities. How long before the energy heavyweights (read: oil companies, electric utilities) demand Audi to stop muscling in on their turf? Although I'm willing to bet that VW boss Ferdinand Piech's pull with the German government is keeping them silent for now.
      Vlad
      • 1 Year Ago
      People sure can continue to live the lazy wasteful lifestyle. The question is: how many? I'm guessing each of us is thinking we will be in.
      Letstakeawalk
      • 1 Year Ago
      I am honestly shocked that so few comments have been made. ' Here we have concrete steps towards building renewable hydrogen infrastructure.
      Letstakeawalk
      • 1 Year Ago
      The Germans have also begun injecting hydrogen (made via wind power) into the natural gas pipelines.
      Giza Plateau
      • 1 Year Ago
      It's not a matter of sacrifice. I don't consider a fast electric car that's cheap to drive a sacrifice. It's about obtuseness which can't continue. The living standard will only rise dramatically if nitwits forego their obtuseness. The ETs who visit us every day travel many times faster than the speed of light, they don't have to work and they live completely without disease. I think that's just a tad better than what a moron in an oversized pickup truck has now..
      DarylMc
      • 1 Year Ago
      Very low CO2 emissions. I wasn't sure but after searching I found that the Audi A3 Sportback g-tron is a dual fuel gasoline and CNG ICE.
      DeepakX
      • 1 Year Ago
      "In the first step, the plant uses surplus green electricity...." Where are they getting the surplus green electricity? Why not use this surplus directly in Electric cars rather than go through this whole energy consuming process? Seems counter productive. The only real benefit I see is the capture of C02. Is that their main goal?
        Vlad
        • 1 Year Ago
        @DeepakX
        Wind is unpredictable, and does create surplus energy if especially good wind condition happen in off-peak hours. Example: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/scotland/10038598/Scottish-wind-farms-paid-1-million-to-shut-down-one-day.html There is a lot of research being done on how to store that energy. Making methane or hydrogen is a pretty good one. The only question is the cost of infrastructure.
        Jim
        • 1 Year Ago
        @DeepakX
        You can't tell people when to charge their cars, and you can't control when the surplus green electricity is being generated in the grid. Therefore there is no way to reliably synchronize these two events to store that energy in car batteries. You CAN, however, ramp up this gas plant whenever surplus electricity is available and then STORE the resulting methane and hydrogen for later use. Think of the plant as essentially a green energy storage device that uses fuel gas instead of batteries for energy storage.
        Letstakeawalk
        • 1 Year Ago
        @DeepakX
        "Where are they getting the surplus green electricity?" Typically, from excess wind power. Otherwise, the turbines are simply shut down, and the generation potential just goes wasted. "Why not... electric cars?" Obviously, there aren't enough electric cars to soak up the surplus, which is why a surplus of generation capacity exists. Might as well use that generation capacity for *something*...
        Dave
        • 1 Year Ago
        @DeepakX
        I don't know the actual numbers, but lets consider the thought process: Lets say you have $60,000. You have two options: 1) You can build a $45,000 EV (so you can have a 150+ mile range) with a ~15 year lifespan and $15,000 worth of infrastructure with a 40+ year lifespan. 2) You can build a $15,000 ICE vehicle with a ~15 year lifespan and $45,000 worth of infrastructure with a 40+ year lifespan. Either way, you have a zero CO2 solution for the same initial investment. However, in the first case, your replacement investment at the 15 year mark is much higher.
      Letstakeawalk
      • 1 Year Ago
      Wait, isn't that Tesla's marketing line? "No sacrifice..."
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