Grid-free Renewable Energy Enabling New Ways to Economical Liquids and Long-term Storage


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Program Description:

GREENWELLS will develop processes for harnessing intermittent renewable energy sources like wind and solar to produce liquids for sustainable fuels or chemicals and their precursors. The program will support the development of chemical reactor systems to efficiently convert carbon dioxide and an intermittent feedstock of electricity or hydrogen to carbon-containing liquids. The chemical reactor systems and its supporting units will be designed to dynamically respond to intermittent renewable energy generation, bringing us one step closer to opening dynamically operable synthesis plants for renewables-to-liquids.

The primary objective of GREENWELLS is to develop chemical reactors and supporting units that economically store at least 50% of incoming intermittent electrical energy in carbon-containing liquids. Technical approaches may include dynamic reactor design, catalyst development and optimization, manufacturing methods, modeling, and process optimization.

If successful, GREENWELLS technologies will provide low-cost carbon-containing liquids to enable transportation and storage of renewable energy, serve as needed fuels for difficult-to-decarbonize sectors, and speed the development of renewable energy projects by supporting off-grid applications.

Innovation Need:

The average time to deploy new renewable energy projects from a grid interconnection request to plant operation in the United States has nearly doubled in the last decade. From 2000-2016, 72% of requests for interconnection of new projects to the grid were withdrawn. Creating new opportunities to harness renewables off-grid is critical for achieving net zero by 2050.

Current chemical reactor technologies cannot, however, accommodate rapidly ramping reactors when using intermittent renewables. Existing power-to-liquids pilots have aimed to operate at a steady state. Although operating on a low-carbon grid or using a non-intermittent renewable source like geothermal or hydroelectric is a viable strategy, the approach does not solve the primary problem of using stranded renewable energy.

Transportation sectors, like aviation, marine, and heavy-duty vehicles, simultaneously require technological solutions to lower their emissions. Biofuel production will not be able to meet the global demand for liquid fuels, and other alternative fuels are currently expensive. Renewables-to-liquids projects could achieve lower overall costs and minimize project timelines by using cheap—albeit intermittent—renewable energy sources.

Potential Impact:

Developing dynamically operable chemical reactor systems to take advantage of cheap, intermittent energy sources such as wind and solar could have the following impacts:


Technologies like renewables-to-liquids could encourage the construction of new renewable energy installations in places that are difficult to connect to the electrical grid due to their remote location or an overburdened grid.


Renewables-to-liquids fuel production could increase the utilization of renewable energy, making the approach a viable path to further decarbonization goals in parallel with grid modernization.


Liquid fuels can be easily transported, allowing for the export of energy from areas of high renewable energy production to areas of lower renewable energy production.


Program Director:
Dr. James Seaba
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