"Transitioning to a future without fossil fuels" is the ambitious goal of the young TUM start-up Reverion. To this end, the now 27-member team, which is currently participating in our TechFounders program, has developed a groundbreaking technology for generating electricity from biogas. Stephan Herrmann from Reverion tells us in an interview how their innovation works and why a circular economy is the future.
In the last year at the latest, it has become clearer than ever that humanity needs to get away from fossil fuels. How do you want to contribute to this?
The transition to a future without fossil fuels is one of the biggest challenges humanity has ever faced. And, indeed, the problem is more urgent today than ever before. But even today, 40% of global CO2 emissions come from coal-fired power plants. Fossil fuel power generation is (still) needed to meet electricity demand when there is not enough renewable energy on the grid.
In addition, the current energy crisis has highlighted the problems of the EU's high dependence on imported natural gas.
Biogas can not only replace imported gas but is also the only significant renewable energy source that can generate electricity regardless of weather conditions. However, today's biogas plants use only 40% of the energy potential, are not flexible, and emit millions of tons of CO2.
This is where our technology comes in. Our solution is a highly efficient, reversible, CO2-negative power plant for biogas, which we have successfully developed, patented, and validated over the years. Reverion plants can double power generation from the same amount of biogas through higher electrical efficiencies. In addition, the same plant can produce green hydrogen or methane from temporary surplus electricity. And in the overall process, pure, storable CO2 is captured, enabling negative CO2 emissions.
Sounds brilliant. How did you come up with this idea?
Until recently I was a group leader at the Chair of Energy Systems at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) in Garching, where I came up with the idea for the new system design as part of my dissertation. Over the years, I assembled the team at TUM to develop a prototype. After the prototype proved successful, Reverion was founded in 2022 to scale the technology and bring it to market.
Since May we have moved our offices and production facilities to Eresing in Bavaria and expanded our team to almost 30 employees - and we are still looking for more team growth in all areas - electronics, mechatronics, welding, IT the engineering, as well as employees for our business development and sales team! Especially those who are looking for a working student job are invited to apply!
Let's be honest: Can we really become independent of fossil fuels in the medium term?
In order to become independent of fossil fuels, we need technologies that can both produce renewable electricity independent of the weather and store energy on demand.
With our Reverion plants, we can address both problems and increase the potential for electricity generation from existing biogas plants in Germany alone from around 5.5 GW today to up to 11 GW. If we use the full flexibility of the technology, even 20 GW of electricity can be generated at peak times, which is more than coal-fired power generation today!
In addition, synthetic, renewable natural gas from Reverion plants can be used for electricity, heat, or mobility via the existing natural gas grid. In doing so, a long-term storage effect is achieved by using the existing gas infrastructure. The existing infrastructure has a storage capacity of around 400 TWh in Germany, 100,000 times the total installed battery storage.
The combination of these two unique properties would enable a (medium-term) emission-free future.
What exactly constitutes biogas and where does Germany currently stand with its supply?
When organic waste - e.g., crop residues, manure, etc. - decompose in the absence of oxygen (anaerobic process), a mixture of methane, carbon dioxide, water, and hydrogen sulfide is released. These gases together are referred to as biogas. Today, biogas is typically used with gas engines to generate electricity, but in some cases, it is also upgraded to a natural gas substitute (biomethane) and injected into the gas grid.
Biogas is already a mainstay in the energy system and is particularly widespread in Germany. Of the approximately 20,000 biogas plants in Europe, almost half (~9,700) are located in Germany. This corresponds to an installed power generation capacity of about 6.5 GW of biogas plants in Germany. However, last year these plants produced only 27,000 GWh of electricity, which is less than 50% of the full production potential.
In terms of gas consumption, Germany covers 27% of its primary energy consumption with natural gas. 95% of this gas is imported, and 55% of the imported gas came from Russia. German biogas capacity could currently cover only 22% of Russian gas. With our technology, however, this share can be increased to 44% without additional land consumption.
What do politics, business and society have to do to advance technologies like yours in the sense of a circular economy?
Politics, business and society have an essential role to play and must contribute to change by supporting and advancing new, revolutionary technologies like ours. This applies to direct public financial support, as well as regulatory, fiscal and communications support. Actual basic development already receives relatively broad public funding. But especially in the scale-up phase, there are sometimes unnecessary hurdles for start-ups like us that make it difficult to bring new technologies quickly and efficiently into (series) production and onto the market.
In addition, there is a lack of suitable public funding mechanisms in Germany and Europe for the quite capital-intensive start-up of production on an industrial scale by start-ups that do not have the financial background of an older, established company. There is room for improvement here, to everyone's benefit, because we can deliver what policymakers are desperately seeking in the face of the energy crisis: The basis for an affordable, stable, decentralized energy system. Our mission is to reverse global climate change and enable an emissions-free future. And we are convinced that we can only achieve this together.
Thank you very much for the interview!