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Hanze Groningen

Sustainable Fuel specialization at Hanze University of Applied Sciences in Groningen

by Oriol Raventós, Spain (EUREC 2017/18)

The specialization in Sustainable Fuels of the European Master in Renewable Energy (EUREC) is based in the Hanze University of Applied Sciences in Groningen. It is not a coincidence that under this city lays the largest gas field in Europe. Although it has been providing gas to the continent for more than half a century, it was recently forced to reduce its productivity due to earthquakes produced in the extraction. The reginal protests have forced the government to boost even more the renewable energy policies. Despite of that, it seems clear that gas will continue to play a key role in the Netherlands, to benefit from the existing gas grid, but time the gas will be produced by digestion and gasification of biomass and methanation of CO2 (using wind energy to make the necessary hydrogen via electrolysis).

The lectures covered a very large spectrum: Digestation to produce biogas, methanation to upgrade the gas, fermentation of lignocellulosic material to produce third generation liquid biofuel (including a lab on bioethanol production), gas storage possibilities (including a lab on adsorption of methane), the role of microalgae in biodiesel production (and the necessity of valorizing it by producing high value nutrients or treat it as a non-profit CO2 capture technique), and the future of hydrogen (including electrolyzers and fuel cells). Also there were talks about combustion, gasification, liquefaction, and torrefaction of biomass by a researcher of the Energieonderzoek Centrum Nederland, ECN (which is a very good place for internships), with real state-of-the-art power plant examples.

Through all the courses it is stressed that the fuels should be considered in the context of a supply chain from-well-to-wheel (WTW), which is a Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) applied to fuels. This avoids being over-optimistic and consider many indicators that prevent undesired collateral effects. Most of the LCA were done using just conventional spreadsheets, but also some work in ASPEN and linear programing was done to make, respectively, mass and energy balances, and optimization.

The educational program was completed by some excursions: To the Audi power-to-gas facility in Wertle (Germany), with 3 installed alkaline electrolyzers of 2 MW each, used to methanize CO2 from a nearby biodigestor to natural gas; To the Omega Green demonstration facility for the cultivation of microalgae; And to the LNG-terminal in the port of Rotterdam, where the Dutch gas distribution company Gasunie can store up to 180000 m3 of liquefied natural gas (LNG).

The campus of Hanze University is shared with the University of Groningen and it has very modern facilities and spectacular buildings. We had most of the classes in the new building of the Energy Academy Europe. They call it the most sustainable educational building in the Netherlands. It has a remarkable architecture, produces no emissions, and generates more energy than it consumes. You can look at this video to get an overview.

The Energy Academy Europe also has a complex, more research oriented, at another side of the campus called the Energy Transition Center (EnTranCe). Among other things, they investigate house isolation, photovoltaic energy and storage (and recently they added a facility to develop earthquake resistant buildings). They define it as a place of interaction of researchers, companies, students and entrepreneurs interested in the energy transition. It is also a good place to look for an internship. In addition, they organize many events destined to the general public and schools, like the Energy Learning Activities. I found really interesting the debate about the future role of nuclear energy (mostly Thorium reactors). Especially, the interventions of Craig Morris (you can check out his books The German Energiewende and Energy Democracy) and the key role of the residual load. Also the video “How many lightbulbs” by David McKay, recommended in the debate, is worth watching.

Finally, Groningen is a great place to live. Everybody speaks perfect English. With a third of the population being students, the amount of parties and life concerts is difficult to handle. Also it is a great place for shopping, especially in the weekly market on Vismarkt. The flea markets and second-hand shops are remarkable in size and bargains. It is also well connected by bus and train, and, of course, being in the Netherlands, is very bike-friendly (to the point of collapse by bike agglomeration).

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