The electricity consumption of industry is expected to double in the next few decades, as industrial companies strive to reduce the use of fossil fuels with clean electricity. However, using electricity in industrial processes requires many new solutions that are not yet commercially available. A VTT research project has developed technological solutions for the future of the chemical industry. Many of the key reactions of the chemical industry require a very high temperature, nearly 1000 °C, which is achieved by burning fossil fuels. This results in a high level of CO2 emissions.
VTT's E-REACTOR project solves this challenge with an electrically heated reactor. “The principle is the same as with electrical resistance heating. What's new is applying it to very high temperatures and conditions where you catalyse chemical reactions. The solution also has to be scalable to industrial capacities, with electricity use in the range of dozens of megawatts”, explains Senior Researcher Ilkka Hannula from VTT.
An electrically heated reactor could replace the use of fossil fuels in many of the key processes that require high-temperature heat in the chemical industry. One of the obvious applications is natural gas reforming. The electrification of this process alone would lead to significan reductions in global industrial CO2 emissions. There are other similar chemical reactions, and the investigation of potential applications continues as the project progresses.
The prototype of the electrical reactor has been completed, and it has been successfully tested in laboratory conditions. The next stage is testing the reactor in long-term use, followed by scaling up to the industrial level. “An industrial application could be viable by the end of the decade”, estimates Hannula.
The electrically heated reactor has been developed as part of VTT's iBEX 2020 programme. The programme is an example of a new way of conducting applied research in an increasingly solution-oriented manner. The projects tackle large global challenges and look for radical solutions in cooperation with industry and society. The iBEX programme is a runway for inventions that change the world.
VTT is one of Europe’s leading research institutions, owned by the Finnish state. The task is to advance the utilisation and commercialisation of research and technology in commerce and society. The research is guided by the company’s lighthouse themes: climate action, resource sufficiency, good life, safety and security and industrial renewal. VTT provides research and innovation services and information for domestic and international customers and partners, both in private and public sectors. VTT is part of Finland's innovation system and operates under the mandate of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment.