Industrial processes

The SynErgie Kopernikus project

Which technologies are important for adapting industrial processes to a new energy supply?

The challenge where a large part of our energy comes from wind and solar electricity is how to harmonise when it is produced with when it is consumed. Storage offers one solution; another is flexibility of demand (so-called Demand Side Management – DSM). So energy-intensive industrial processes, optimally adapted to a future energy system involving a high proportion of fluctuating energy production, must be designed around basic principles different to current practice. This is why technologies adapted to the energy system of the future are important for key industrial processes. These must initially be trialled in demonstration plants.

„How can an economy that is very heavily oriented towards energy-intensive sectors achieve the move to producing energy from renewable sources while remaining competitive? Industry’s energy supply costs could be reduced significantly in coming years as a result of this move - and at the same time CO2 emissions will fall. The Kopernikus SynErgie project is researching this.” Federal Minister of Education and Research Johanna Wanka at Jülich on 13 October 2016

What are the possible solutions?

As an example, chloralkali electrolysis in Germany uses around 2 Gigawatts of electrical power. This process could be made dependent on the supply of electricity, so adapting industrial power demand to the availability of electricity from wind and solar sources. This would allow industry to contribute significantly to a flexible energy system. Possible technologies for this include the flexible, intelligent management of so-called batch processes (such as the filling and emptying of vessels and containers); the deliberate over-sizing of plants to be able to accommodate temporary electricity surpluses; and the introduction of buffer capabilities such as product storage. So we can shift energy consumption to times of high energy supply, taking the strain off the electricity networks and making sensible use of renewable energy that would otherwise be wasted.

Another approach is to replace fossil fuels used to produce process heat with renewable energy carriers. Power-to-Heat technologies in particular could be employed here. This also presents an opportunity to increase the proportion of renewable energy used in the heating sector, which to date has been low. Electricity from wind turbines and solar installations can also be used directly in industrial processes, either through the use of heat accumulators or by modifying the chemical processes.

In addition to the energy-intensive process industries, there is potential too for manufacturing industry to improve its interaction with fluctuating electricity production. New production concepts for energy-efficient manufacturing, involving the drawing of electricity at the optimal time, must consider the entire value chain.

Selected key research questions are:

  • The development of new and the adaptation of existing processes aimed at the highly efficient use of electrical power from renewable sources instead of fossil fuels; demonstration plants; comparison with traditional processes on the basis of costs and CO2 footprint
  • Information and communication technologies for intelligent management of processes as a function of electricity availability (Industrie 4.0)

The SynErgie consortium

The “Industrial processes” Kopernikus project: Synchronised and energy-adaptive production technology for the flexible alignment of industrial processes to fluctuating energy supply” (SynErgie)

With an ever-growing proportion of producers feeding electricity into the grid on an irregular basis, there is a need for efficient alignment of energy supply and demand. In future, a balanced mix of technologies between renewables, flexible conventional power stations, storage facilities, network expansion and consumer flexibility will be needed to guarantee security of supply. Many of the building blocks for these solutions come with a high price tag which is passed on to the user, raising problems with social acceptance. Industrial processes, and in particular large stand-alone plants in energy-intensive industry sectors, are responsible for a total of 44 % of net electricity demand and 25 % of heating demand in Germany, offering plenty of opportunities for increased flexibility. Medium and short-term flexibility in electricity demand, so-called “demand-side management” (DSM), offers an opportunity to modify the energy system in a cost-efficient and socially acceptable way.

What is the objective of the Kopernikus project?

SynErgie supports the cost-efficient implementation of the Energiewende based on renewable energies and, in so doing, enables Germany to become the world leader in flexible industrial processes. This research work is initially looking at seven energy-intensive sectors: steel and aluminium manufacture, the chemical industry, machinery and plant engineering, and the paper, food, cement and car industries. These sectors together account for some 90 % of net industrial electricity demand. The SynErgie project is looking at the energy-intensive key production processes in these sectors with the aim of synchronising their energy demands with the fluctuating energy supply from renewable sources. To achieve this, the conventional, monolithic automation structures are being broken down and technologically adapted. A highly-dynamic control platform is being created around modern information and communication technology (ICT) systems. This controls energy distribution between industrial processes, taking into account energy supply fluctuation. In addition to technical and economic aspects, the project also particularly integrates legal and social perspectives into its solutions. As preparation for smooth implementation of the research results, the techniques developed are being modelled in the “Energy-flexible Augsburg” sub-project and subsequently evaluated from both technical and socio-economic standpoints.

What makes the consortium so attractive?

SynErgie is an interdisciplinary consortium with broad participation from the energy-intensive industries. Led by TU Darmstadt and the University of Stuttgart the project involves more than 80 partners from science, industry and civil society working together to integrate energy-intensive industrial processes into the future energy system. To develop holistic and synergistic solutions the industrial partners are working with research institutions specialising in production and process engineering, power supply engineering, (business) informatics and the social, legal and economic sciences. To guarantee that the solutions developed make economic sense and are socially-balanced, a host of regional companies and civil-society organisations are being brought into the implementation of industrial demand flexibility concepts that is taking place in the “Energy-flexible region Augsburg”.

Contribution to the energy system

Industry’s energy costs could be reduced by more than €10.000 million by 2020 through the application of such flexibility measures, with CO2 emissions additionally being substantially reduced. Some 60 % of positive load balancing (electricity demand greater than supply) and around 2 % of negative load balancing (electricity supply greater than demand) could be met today simply from DSM measures in industry. The necessary technological innovation could raise this potential even further with, for example, any surplus renewable energy being effectively absorbed into value-creating processes. Current estimates suggest a potential 6.9 Gigawatts positive, and 4.0 Gigawatts negative, load balancing capacity for particularly energy-intensive industrial processes in the coming years. This potential is currently largely unused in Germany. The SynErgie project is for the first time demonstrating cross-sector industrial flexibility measures in Germany, and opening-up new possibilities for DSM measures in Germany as an industrial location.

Contact person:

TU Darmstadt, Institute of Production Management, Technology and Machine Tools (PTW), Contact person: Prof. Dr.-Ing. Eberhard Abele


Other partners 

Associate partners