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Pitch

Make your own fuel at home from atmospheric CO2 – heat your home with the energy you produce and store yourself #UseNotReduce


Description

Summary


Our vision is a world independent from fossil fuels. Our goal is to replace centrally supplied fossil fuels used for heating. We start in Europe, where heating accounts for more than 73% of fossil fuel usage and is responsible for 57% of all CO2 emissions in the EU-28 states (1a). Next we expand our focus to the rest of the world: in 2013 in the US, heating accounted for almost 60% of the average household’s energy consumption (1b); 86% of this came from fossil fuels! Our first target is the residential heating sector (figure 1), which accounts for the biggest share of energy consumption.

                                                                                          

To make this vision come true, we introduce the world’s first residential power-to-liquid and CO2 usage system. The willpower system empowers everyone to produce his or her own fuel at home from surrounding resources: CO2, water, and electricity. The core is an internationally patent-protected electro-biocatalytical process technology that converts atmospheric CO2 into methanol. The clean and easy-to-handle energy carrier methanol can be stored and used for heating or electricity generation. CO2 can be regularly captured from the atmosphere or re-captured continuously from conversion (fuel cell, burning) processes. To this end, we use a technology from the European Space Agency (ESA) that captures atmospheric CO2 at a small scale (~10kg/ day) in an energy efficient way. Best of all is that the system can be installed directly in your house so you can produce your own fuel.

The entire concept is a result of the MIT Entrepreneurship Development Program, taught by Bill Aulet, Martin C. Trust Centre for Entrepreneurship at MIT.


What actions do you propose?

Gensoric has received a highly competitive EU grant (success rate <5%, more than 600 proposals) to conduct pilot trials in an operational environment (residential buildings). We’ve demonstrated this process at lab scale (gram scale output over 12 hours). Along with several experienced subcontractors we are working on 1) decreasing production costs, 2) optimizing the efficiency of the CO2 capture, 3) increasing device output and 4) scaling the device up to work under real-world conditions. Our goal is to increase production capacity to 8kg of methanol per day (equivalent to around 44 kWh), which more than fulfills the heating and electricity needs of a conventional single family home. First calculations suggest this can be achieved with an energy input in kWh in the mid double digits, a scale achievable in the rooftop solar range.

 The willpower system uses direct air capture technology to remove CO2 from the air. The captured CO2 is then enzymatically reduced to methanol in situ; the energy efficiency of this conversion is improved by a patented electrochemical process (2). Methanol is separated from water via a membrane. It can then be burned in a direct methanol fuel cell (DMFC), a combined heat and power unit or directly in a heating system for residential heating. A goal of this project is to ensure that this will be compatible with and approved for existing infrastructure. According to our calculations, burning it directly for heating is the most energy efficient use.

Figure 2: Reaction schematic

Best combined with a rooftop solar system or a mini wind turbine, willpower can also be used for energy storage: electricity generated during the day can be stored as methanol and used on the same day or as seasonal storage and burned for heating months later. Willpower is directly scalable by adding on extra units, so it can also be used on larger scales and for more energy intensive uses, such as small scale commercial utilizations (e.g. farms or multi-family homes).

Because our system is both used for heating and for energy storage, it is difficult to compare it to existing systems like heat pumps that are just for heating and cooling. A better comparison is another common chemical energy carrier, hydrogen. The methanol versus hydrogen economy debate has been going on for years. For our purposes and target audience of autark residential energy storage, methanol has several distinct advantages. It can be stored and used at room temperature and pressure rather than needed high pressure and/or cryogenic equipment. At ambient conditions, methanol is also much more energy dense (15.8 MJ/L versus 10.7 kJ/L) (3). Because it is a liquid, it can be adapted into existing infrastructure much more easily than the volatile hydrogen (4). The willpower system also has the advantage over batteries that it can be used for seasonal and mid-term energy storage; batteries on the other hand can only supplement energy use on a daily basis.

The use of methanol as fuel has also been previously demonstrated several times. In the 1990s, California experimented with integrating methanol fuel cell cars; the experiment failed in part because oil prices were low and because it lacked strong advocates (5). Today methanol is used in fuel blends in China and organizations such as the Methanol Institute (6) advocate for the implementation of methanol in fuels all over the energy sector.

The framework for the acceptance of this project has already been laid: the UN Sustainable Development Goals, especially the Energy and Climate Change goals, and the Paris Climate Agreement support clean energy technology and infrastructure worldwide. In Europe, energy initiatives such as EU2020 and 2030 foster innovation in the realms of carbon-neutral technology and renewable energy. (7)


Who will take these actions?

Gensoric has teamed up with leading German architecture and house design firm, Rolf Disch Solar Architecture (8). This firm has pioneered sustainable energy concepts and is responsible for low-energy trend-setting buildings and settlements run completely on renewable energy. His homes either require very low energy or produce more energy than they use. Gensoric will define minimum performance parameters, set up the pilot plant in a LowEnergie or PlusEnergie house and conduct test runs with lead customers, backed by parallel project management development.

Mr. Disch’s cooperation facilitates our introduction to our first target group: consumers who value renewable and grid independent energy solutions. Not only will he bring our system directly to his housing projects, he is an opinion leader in revolutionary residential energy concepts. His endorsement will open up further channels and acceptance for willpower. Market penetration will be further supported by cooperation with one of Europe’s four leading electricity and gas company, which plans on integrating Gensoric’s technology into its corporate strategy in order to foster decentralized energy supply and storage, facilitate the integration of willpower into smart grid applications and refine and implement our proposed business model to open up new strategic branches.

Once we have been accepted by lead customers via Rolf Disch’s network of contacts, the partner can introduce the willpower system to its market of 30 million customers.

Furthermore we recognize that price is often a huge barrier to the average customer interested in adopting green energy. However, our estimates put the willpower system at a price competitive with that of natural gas at 6 ct/kWh. As we optimize and scale up production, prices will continue to drop as natural gas and other fossil fuel prices rise. This along with our strategic partnerships will ensure social acceptance of willpower.


Where will these actions be taken?

Beachhead market will be southwestern Germany, where green-minded people with a high income and a strong attitude towards sustainable energy solutions are in the majority. This business approach primarily targets the builders of new homes. The decision which type of energy system will be installed is taken in the very first steps when designing a house. Therefore it is essential to team up with architects who can influence the decision making process of the home builders.

                                                                                                

The next key market regions are in western and south-western Europe. Our initial focus is especially on those countries either with a strong solar power industry and a relatively high percentage of installed PV systems (e.g. Germany) or who are experiencing a stable upward trend in solar installations (e.g. UK, Spain, France, Italy and Austria). We target the residential sector, especially those privately-owned single family houses big enough to carry suitable photovoltaic equipment. As of 2016 this consists of approximately 1.45 million units. (9)

 

Eventually we will expand to target other economically well-developed regions in the world, including the USA, Canada, Brazil and Japan.


How much will emissions be reduced or sequestered vs. business as usual levels?

11 kg / day / house! 10 million Metric tons (~11 US tons) CO2 can be avoided yearly.

Our system has net zero emissions. It removes atmospheric CO2 to make clean-burning bio-methanol. Replacing a conventional gas heating system reduces emissions by 11 kg/day/unit. As of 2015 there are 2.5 million houses in 12 key market regions suited to carry the willpower system. These are privately owned houses of a certain size with an installed photovoltaic system. 100% penetration of this market would lead to 10 million Metric ton emissions reduction annually.

This does not account for global photovoltaic market growth (projected to be up to 18% CAGR). It also does not account for the emission offset that comes from houses using renewable energy instead of conventional electricity or the fact that no methane is being emitted from burning natural gas. That means that the actual potential emissions reduction is much higher, especially as photovoltaic systems become more widespread over the years.


What are other key benefits?

Energy autarky.  willpower makes it possible for people to produce and store all of their own energy as prosumers, not just consumers. Our first target customers produce their own energy with solar panels or even wind turbines. Energy storage in the form of methanol offers partial or total grid independence. It also decreases dependence on imported oil.

Compatible with existing infrastructure. willpower will be approved for use in currently existing heaters, lowering barriers to social acceptance.

Energy storage improves economic viability of photovoltaic systems. Most battery packs are drained after one energy-intensive use, whereas methanol can be stored for days or months.

Discretely scalable. It can be eventually be employed in applications demanding higher output than that in the residential sector, ie energy generation and storage in communities or for farms and smaller commercial users. Eventually, substituting conventional fuels for transport is possible—such as in California.


What are the proposal’s costs?

2.5 million € (2.8 mil USD) is needed to develop and install the first three to four pilot plants. 1.7 mil € has been secured through European funding. A crowd invest campaign is about to start in Q3 to find complementary financing.

Market-ready devices will be priced competitively with current energy storage solutions such as combined heat and power generators (Vaillant system: 12.400€). Prices are kept low by 1) using commercial parts (pumps, tanks) to build the device and 2) economy of scale.

In contrast to other CO2 utilization technologies, there is no need for scarce materials (rare earth metal catalysts) which limit the widespread employment of the system. In fact, the production costs of enzymes produced at industrial scale lie below 10 Ct /g (food industry starch processing). In our calculations, we estimate enzyme costs / unit of about 8-10€/g. First estimates of our other two critical components, the CO2 adsorber and the membrane place their costs around 3000-5000€ per part at a production of 1000 pieces and 500-1000€ per part at production of 18-30 pieces respectively. As production increases, these prices should also fall according to economy of scale. We orient our production costs to the average gross profit margin of 45-50% in this sector, which was revealed in a peer analysis.

Our goal is to decreases prices such that yearly costs for end customer's heating are competitive with natural gas at 6 Euro-cent /kWh.

Although it will initially be more expensive than gas, as demand increases bulk production costs will go down, bringing the price ever lower. Willpower also looks to the future of energy generation in Germany and worldwide. As the transition towards green and renewable energies continues and becomes more widespread, a sustainable solution for heating and energy storage must be developed. Willpower offers both of these solutions.


Time line

The device will continue to be developed and optimized until market launch in 2019. Our strategic partner and lead users Rolf Disch, solar architect in Germany who has already achieved energy autarky for entire communities, will introduce willpower to his community. The device will proliferate through network effects and further sales channels (architects and house builders) will be acquired. A strategic partnership with one of the four biggest utility corporations in Europe (LOI is available and talks are ongoing) will help boost sales and support our growth throughout Europe and beyond in the next step after 2020.

As new heating systems are installed (500,000 per year in Germany, according to the BDEW) (10) and gas and oil are phased out in Europe in line with the sustainability goals, willpower will become more widespread as viable energy storage and fuel. Once European market penetration is successful, we will spread globally to markets with an increasing percentage of residential and distributed PV systems.


Related proposals

N/A


References

  1. http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/Electricity_and_heat_statistics and http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/Greenhouse_gas_emission_statistics
  2. http://gensoric.com/index.php/thermalab
  3. Sandia National Laboratories, http://www1.eere.energy.gov/hydrogenandfuelcells/pdfs/storage.pdf
  4. MIT Technology Review https://www.technologyreview.com/s/405436/the-methanol-economy/
  5. Sloan Automotive Laboratory, MIT http://www.afdc.energy.gov/pdfs/mit_methanol_white_paper.pdf
  6. Methanol.org
  7. https://ec.europa.eu/energy/en/topics/renewable-energy and http://ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/international/negotiations/paris/index_en.htm
  8. http://www.rolfdisch.de/
  9. Figure is derived from the EUROStat database 2015 and Global Market Outlook Solar Power Europe 2015
  10. German Association of Water and Thermotechnology (Bundesverband der Energie- und Wasserwirtschaft, BDEW), Study, “How does Germany heat today?” 07/2015