Audi, the German automaker known for its stylish cars such as the R8, is emerging as an unlikely innovator in the field of energy storage. In the first project of its kind, the Ingolstadt-based company has constructed a large-scale facility that converts surplus wind and solar energy into methane for storage in the natural gas grid. The gas reserve can subsequently be extracted for a variety of uses, from generating power, through heating homes, to replacing vehicle fuels.
Project Volt Gas Volt, as the initiative is christened, represents Audi’s stab at finding an alternative fuel for the future. In order to find a substitute for gasoline, Audi added another step to the conversion process – introducing carbon dioxide to hydrogen to produce methane. It is serendipitous that the enterprise could also result in the much sought-after union between renewable energy and grid storage.
Two of the project’s leaders appear to harbour high hopes for the role of methane in replacing nuclear energy and other conventional sources of electricity. Herman Pengg, Audi’s renewable fuels doyen, and University of New York professor Robert Bell believe that “a breakthrough in energy storage [will] … allow for a shift to 100 percent renewable energy sources, overcoming the major obstacle of intermittent flow of energy.”
Will methane really be the silver bullet that makes intermittency a thing of the past?
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