Renewable energy sources like wind, sun, biogas, hydropower and geothermal energy are becoming increasingly important for meeting the world's energy needs. But the proportion each of these individual sources has in the overall energy mix depends on regional conditions. Climatic conditions – such as the intensity and number of hours of daily sunlight, or the availability of wind – are decisive. Renewable raw materials, especially biomass, are likewise of great interest as alternative feedstock for chemical processes.
Technology advances in solar energy
In contrast to fossil fuels, solar energy is unlimited. Its use releases no greenhouse gases and emits no climate-damaging particulates. Together with a network of solar cell manufacturers, Linde has developed a process that will make solar technology more efficient and economical in the future. Use of the environmentally neutral gas fluorine will significantly reduce the emissions that develop during the energy-intensive production of solar cells.
The expansion of solar energy is being accelerated by enormous advances in technology and the efficiency of the production process. While production of solar cells per Watt of power cost over 100 USD in 1974, experts estimate that the same amount of power can be produced in 2012 for only 50 cents. Thin-film technology has made the greatest contribution to this development. It enables mass production of large-scale solar modules and needs only one percent of the amount of silicon that is needed to manufacture conventional polycrystalline solar cells.
Linde is working in a network of leading manufacturers of solar cells and production plants as well as with renowned research institutions to further increase module performance as well as plant throughput. The common goal of all partners in the network is to make solar energy even more affordable and reduce the environmental impact of solar cell production to an even greater extent. The worldwide market for the gases needed for producing solar cells is expected to grow in coming years. Experts estimate that their market volume in 2015 will amount to circa one billion EUR; the forecasts for 2030 are around some three billion EUR.
Intensifying the use of renewable raw materials
The chemical industry still remains largely dependent on fossil fuels, above all, oil. After all, not only do cars, airplanes and ships need oil, but it is also the basis for the production of basic chemical substances, plastics, colours, adhesives and many other products found in daily life. Renewable resources can contribute to reducing both the dependence on oil as well as CO2 emissions. Many processes that require neither food nor feed have already been tested in the laboratory. The Chemical-Biotechnologial Process Centre in Leuna, which was opened in October 2012 by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, is intended to close the gap between the laboratory and industrial implementation and to help intensify the use of renewable resources.
The main aim of the CBP is to transition innovative biotechnological and chemical processes to industrial-scale production, thus enabling companies to manufacture basic chemical products from regenerative raw materials. Linde affiliate Linde Engineering Dresden GmbH (LEDD) was responsible for engineering the process units, the supporting infrastructure and necessary media and utilities. LEDD was commissioned by the Fraunhofer Institute to plan and build five pilot-scale process units, known as modules, for the CBP in December 2009, following an EU-wide tender.
The CBP is part of the Central German Clusters BioEconomy, which was honored with an award from the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF) and is receiving subsidies.