Energy and Environment
Read more at: Research on energy and the environment at the PSI
The Zurich-based power company Energie 360° provides natural gas, biogas, and wood pellets throughout Switzerland. Now, with the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI, it has successfully tested a new Power-to-Gas technology to be implemented in the area of biogas production. The joint project was awarded the Swiss energy prize Watt d'Or 2018. In this interview, division manager Peter Dietiker talks about the collaboration with PSI.
At the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI, researchers are looking for solutions that enable energy from the sun, the wind, or biomass to be efficiently integrated into the Swiss energy system.
Efficiently producing energy from biowaste: A technology developed at PSI and tested in collaboration with the Zurich-based energy provider Energie 360° makes it possible. It extracts significantly more methane from biowaste than conventional methods. For this important contribution to a sustainable energy supply, PSI and Energie 360° have now been awarded the Watt d'Or 2018 in the Renewable Energy category by the Swiss Federal Office of Energy.
With a technology developed at the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI, around 60 percent more biogas can be produced from bio-waste than with conventional methods. But can it stand the test in practice as well? A 1,000-hour test at the Werdhölzli biowaste digestion and wastewater treatment plant in Zurich was able to answer this question with a clear yes. It was carried out in cooperation with the Zurich-based energy provider Energie 360°. The analysis of the stress test is now available.
PSI researchers have developed an experimental chamber in which they can recreate atmospheric processes and probe them with unprecedented precision, using X-ray light from the Swiss Light Source SLS. In the initial experiments, they have studied the production of bromine, which plays an essential role in the decomposition of ozone in the lower layers of the atmosphere. In the future, the new experiment chamber will also be available for use by researchers from other scientific fields.
Because of their high nitrogen content, spent coffee grounds are a popular garden fertilizer. Recycled in this manner, they already contribute to an environmentally friendly waste management. But they have the potential to deliver much more: a new procedure developed at the PSI allows high quality methane to be formed from spent coffee grounds. PSI researchers involved in a pilot project carried out in cooperation with the Swiss food producer Nestlé were able to show that spent coffee grounds left over during the production of instant coffee can be efficiently re-used elsewhere.
Efficient electrolysers are needed in order to store sun and wind energy in the form of hydrogen. Thanks to a new material developed by researchers at the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI and Empa, these devices are likely to become less costly and more efficient in the future. Researchers were also able to demonstrate that this new material can be reliably produced in large quantities, showing its performance capability in an electrolysis cell—the main component of an electrolyser.
Lignin, as a constituent of many plants, accumulates in large quantities and could theoretically be used as a precursor material for production of fuels and chemicals. Researchers at the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI and ETH Zurich have developed a method with which the processes that take place in the catalytic breakdown of lignin can be observed in detail. The knowledge thus gained could enable targeted improvement of production methods in the future.
PSI materials researchers have developed a method that provides crucial insights into the charging and discharging processes of lithium-sulphur batteries. And the method revealed: with quartz powder added to the battery, its available energy increases and the gradual loss of capacity is much weaker.
In oil extraction sites, gaseous methane is simply burned, even though it could actually be a useful precursor material for fuels and products of the chemical industry. One way to make methane usable is to convert it to methanol. Researchers at the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI and ETH Zurich have now developed a new chemical process that allows this conversion in an efficient and inexpensive way.
A new visitor’s station at PSI tells the story of a Swiss town that makes the change from a conventional energy supply to one with new renewable energy sources.
The Laboratory for Energy Systems Analysis at the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI is investigating how Switzerland’s electricity supply might look, up to the year 2050, under a variety of boundary conditions. On the basis of their calculations, the lab’s researchers are able to generate insights on possible future developments of the energy sector, for example, determine how an ambitious reduction in CO2 emissions could be achieved at the lowest possible cost.
Until now, the onset of copper production in South America was still unclear. Hardly any written records or artefacts from the early high cultures in Peru, Chile, and Bolivia have been preserved. Now, however, researchers of the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI in Villigen (Switzerland) have tracked down the evidence. Through analysis of ice from the Illimani glacier in the Bolivian Andes, they found out that copper was being mined and smelted in South America since around 700 BC.
Within Switzerland’s bio-waste a huge amount of precious energy is hidden. That’s because valuable methane, the main constituent of natural gas, can be obtained from it. With a technology developed at PSI, the yield of methane from bio-waste could be increased considerably in the future. A long-term test conducted in cooperation with Energie 360° at the Werdhölzli fermentation and wastewater treatment plant is expected to advance this technology further along its path to industrial use.
Eighty percent of all products of the chemical industry are manufactured with catalytic processes. Catalysis is also indispensable in energy conversion and treatment of exhaust gases. Industry is always testing new substances and arrangements that could lead to new and better catalytic processes. Researchers of the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI in Villigen and ETH Zurich have now developed a method for improving the precision of such experiments, which may speed up the search for optimal solutions.
Atmospheric scientist Julia Schmale is starting out on a three-month research cruise around the Antarctic. There she will be searching for the cleanest air still to be found on our planet.
In most cases, electricity is generated when water is heated and transformed into vapour. Vapour bubbles in the water play a decisive role in this process. Using computer simulation, researchers at the Paul Scherrer Institute have succeeded in representing the behaviour of vapour bubbles – and in making their performance more calculable.
Clouds consist of tiny droplets. These droplets form when water condenses around so-called aerosols – small particles in the atmosphere. To understand how in turn aerosols come into existence scientists have now created a comprehensive computer model simulation based on profound experimental data. This simulation revealed that in addition to sulphuric acid, two other substances are crucially involved in the formation of aerosols: organic compounds and ammonia. These results have now been published in the renowned journal Science.
At the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI, a small group of scientists is using theoretical models to explore an alternative for future nuclear reactors: so-called molten salt reactors. This helps to secure Switzerland’s expertise regarding globally relevant questions in the area of nuclear energy and reactor safety, for today and tomorrow.
This fall, the time has come: The Energy System Integration Platform at the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI goes into operation. Today, in the framework of the double conference Networked Energy Research Switzerland, it was presented to the media and around 150 representatives from politics, industry, and science.