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  TOPIC Model Systems for multifunctional Energy Centres

As long ago as 1999 the Austrian Federal Ministry of Transport, Innovation and Technology (bmvit) launched the "Sustainable Development" research and technology program, aimed at effectively supporting the process of restructuring towards sustainability. Since then both R & D projects and demonstration and diffusion activities that lend new impetus to innovation in Austria’s economy have received support within the scope of a number of subprograms.

The "Energy Systems of Tomorrow" subprogram is aimed at developing technologies and concepts for a flexible, energy-efficient energy system based on using renewable energy sources and capable of safeguarding our energy requirements long-term. System issues, approaches and technologies are researched and developed within the subprogram, as are implementation strategies.

The expression "multifunctional energy centre" refers to a synergetic combination of technologies to provide and use renewable sources of energy at community level. Facilities of this kind utilize local or regional resources to deliver heat/refrigeration, electricity and fuels, and are well integrated in their local/regional surroundings. Since the facility is close to the consumers, the process can be very efficient.

The multi-commodity approach makes the energy system flexible, particularly as regards storage and control arrangements. Research work in this field is concerned with developing innovative components and system solutions, thus achieving the prerequisites for setting up demonstration projects. In this connexion the question of tailor-made organizational structures for operating the facility is important; here local stakeholders (including consumers) should be involved.

From the point of view of energy efficiency and cost-effectiveness multifunctional energy centres can achieve significant improvements in exploiting renewable sources of energy, and should therefore be developed into a mainstay of regional energy supply in future.

Biogas has the potential to play a key role in the sustainable use of biomass as a source of energy. Several advanced technologies have been developed in Austria for processing biogas and using it to generate electricity and heat, and also as fuel. For instance, Jenbacher gas engine technology makes it possible to run engines in the range 0.25 to 3 MW on natural gas, biogas or various special gases. As a high-grade gaseous form of energy, biogas can be used in various different ways: to generate electricity and heat, to be fed into existing natural-gas grids, as an engine fuel and to be distributed in local networks. Alongside energy crops from sustainable cultivation, other substrates can be utilized in cascading processes.

Currently 340 biogas plants with a total capacity of around 86 MW are in operation in Austria, generating roughly 500 GWh of electricity per year from renewable sources (source: Energie-Control 2008). As the feed-in tariff for electricity generated from renewable sources is regulated by statute in Austria (Ökostromgesetz), biogas plants can cover their costs; however, their future is threatened by fluctuations in price and by increases in the cost of substrates. New , economically attractive ways of exploiting biogas are therefore needed.

Expanding a biogas plant into a "multifunctional energy centre" offers a good chance of the facility generating more value locally long-term. There is additional potential in purifying part of the biogas produced to natural-gas (engine fuel) standard and supplying it straight to the consumer, without feeding it into an existing grid.

Several different R&D projects concerned with the technologies required, the layout of "multifunctional energy centres" and implementation in demonstration projects and pilot regions have been carried out within the "Energy Systems of Tomorrow" subprogram.

Multifunktionale Energiezentrale Margarethen am Moos (Multifunctional energy centre in Margarethen am Moos)

A demonstration project within the subprogram, set up by the operators of the associated biogas plant "Margarethen Energy Supply" in cooperation with the Vienna University of Technology.

Effiziente Biogasaufbereitung mit Membrantechnik (Processing biogas efficiently with membrane technology)

At the Vienna University of Technology an innovative process has been developed to purify biogas to natural-gas standard straightforwardly and at low cost.

Agrarische Rohstoffbasis zur Biogaserzeugung (Agricultural feedstock basis for generating biogas)

At the Vienna University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences several tasks concerned with improving the various stages of producing and processing substrates and boosting efficiency have been carried out.


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