InnoTherm Ruhr – Innovative exploration and exploitation technologies for geothermal energy – Bochum

The WIR!-Alliance

The primary goal of the InnoTherm Ruhr project is the focused use of sustainable heat in the Ruhr area. Economically, it hopes to strength the competitiveness of this energy source relative to others, acting as a driver in the region to generate knowledge about technical processes and methods, as well as economic strategies in the fields of geothermal energy, measurement technology, and heat distribution. Technically, it allows new, locally optimized drilling methods to be targeted, as well as new types of sensors and a new mode of operation for heating networks.

The concept is specifically tailored to the »WIR! – Change through innovation in the region« funding programme of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. The innovation and networking project InnoTherm Ruhr intends to bring together, synchronize, and expand the geothermal sector in the Ruhr area with the regional heat market. Accordingly, it encompasses a multitude of innovation potentials in economic, public, and technical areas and will improve the employment situation of the general population. The innovation fields run along the entire heat chain, from the extraction of geothermal energy, the planning of heating networks, plant construction and operation to process management for large-scale customers and intelligent heating systems for private households.

The project outline defines the following cross-cutting topics, which will be expanded and transformed during the concept phase.

  1. Subsurface and reservoir management
  2. Innovative sensor electronics for deep geothermal energy
  3. Heating networks and their conversion
  4. Medium-depth geothermal energy
Schema InnoTherm Ruhr: Underground & Reservoir Management, Sensor technology for deep geothermal energy, heat grids & grid conversion, Medium-deep geothermal energy in dense reservoirs

The region and its challenge

The InnoTherm Ruhr project plans to focus on the densely populated metropolitan Ruhr area. This structurally weak region is characterized by a high demand for heat, geology that is highly promising for geothermal energy but complex, and the geological and structural legacy of former coal mining.

As a former mining region, it is characterized by high population density with a decentralized structure, with multiple cities that have grown into one another over time, and a high degree of interconnectedness. Another key feature of the region is the high density of colleges, universities, and research institutes.

Besides the production of electricity, supplying heat is a key aspect of operating a geothermal system. If this heat is intended to supply households, it needs to be distributed centrally. The Ruhr area has inherited an extensive district heating network from coal mining and related industries. This network is already being used to supply households as one of the most powerful district heating networks in Europe.

The central challenge faced by the InnoTherm Ruhr region is structural change, from the heavy coal and steel industries, via the automotive and electronics industry, to services in digitalization, research, and development. In parallel, within just a few years, several large power plants will need to be replaced both electrically and thermally, as part of the energy transition. This also means that another, renewable way to supply the existing district heating networks needs to be found at short notice.

The Ruhr area has especially close-knit heating networks. They differ in terms of network length and flow temperature; some are connected, whereas others form smaller island networks. Together, they make up the largest district heating network in Europe. Currently, they are still largely dependent on waste heat recovery from coal-based power generation. The power plant-linked networks currently operate with flow temperatures of 130°C, or 180°C in the district heating grids, and need to be decarbonized for the energy and heating transition. In distribution networks, the maximum supply temperature is 110°C, and the return temperature is around 80°C. Smaller island networks, mostly supplied by a heating plant or CHP plant, operate with temperatures of around 90°C supply and 55°C return.

The district heating network can only be successfully decarbonized, however, if this project is supported by society as a whole, strengthening solidarity to work towards the goal of a successful structural change and heating transition.

The partners

The concept creation process is coordinated by the Fraunhofer Institute for Energy Infrastructure and Geothermal Energy (IEG). The Fraunhofer Institute for Microelectronic Circuits and Systems (IMS) and the EBZ Business School – University of Applied Sciences are acting as partners. This alliance is being expanded by Fraunhofer IEG in certain strategic regards, with a key focus on partner acquisition and definition of R&D projects with regional actors from the cross-cutting topics listed above, as well as on generating an innovation and alliance strategy.