Europe’s transition to a net-zero future depends on a fast build up of renewable energy. We need both existing proven technologies such as wind farms, solar power and geothermal energy, and large scale investment in hydrogen, biofuels and Power-to-X. Discover some of the many ways vinyl contributes to green energy:
PVC foam makes wind turbine blades spinning
Wind energy is the technology expected to provide the largest contribution to the EU renewable energy targets. Already today, the region gets around 14% of its electricity from wind turbines at sea and on land. By 2030 that figure could reach 24%.
Wind turbines live a tough life, whether exposed to salty water far away from the shore or in high-wind areas on land. The wind turbine blades in particular are prone to the elements as they turn wind into power for many years. That’s why the blades must be designed to be as durable and lightweight as possible.
PVC foam is widely used in the inner core of wind turbine blades, as the material has a superior strength and stiffness-to-weight ratio. This means the PVC foam keeps the weight to a minimum while ensuring that the wind turbine blade can keep spinning for decades without breaking apart.
PVC film protects against corrosion
Wind turbine towers are subject to harsh weather conditions. For offshore wind farms in particular, the highly corrosive marine environment takes its toll on the steel tower under the nacelle. As offshore wind farms are often situated far from shore, it is expensive and challenging to make repairs. PVC protection film offers an efficient solution against corrosion for land and offshore wind farms. The film is easy to install, very durable and importantly minimises down-time.
Solar panels on PVC roofing membranes harness sun’s energy
Solar power already provides an important contribution to the European energy mix, and it is expected that solar has the potential to meet 20% of the EU electricity demand in 2040. Many solar farms are currently being built around Europe, but there’s also a huge untapped potential in turning new and existing homes and commercial buildings into energy-harvesting units.
PVC roofing membranes make it possible to integrate photovoltaic panels that can harness the sun’s energy for many years.
In addition, innovations in PVC and photovoltaic cell technology have the potential to make solar power even more efficient and affordable.
Flexible thin-film photovoltaic panels are a solution where the photovoltaic cells are printed directly on the PVC roofing membrane.
A prime example of this technology is found in a large sports complex in Den Bosch, Netherlands, where a power output of 125 Mwh of green energy was achieved by gluing 418 flexible solar modules to a PVC roof membrane. As a result, the sports complex has achieved its goal of being 100% climate neutral.
PVC pipes are fit for the hydrogen economy
To achieve the objectives under the European Green Deal, economic growth must be decoupled from resource use. This will require a transformational change and the full mobilisation of industry.
Hydrogen is expected to play an important role in this transformation, as can be witnessed in the European Commission’s Hydrogen strategy for a climate-neutral Europe. It can be used to carry and store energy, as a fuel and as an energy feedstock. It does not emit CO2 and generates almost no air pollution when used. The use of clean hydrogen can help decarbonise energy intensive industries such as steel, chemicals and cement, the transport sector’s heavy duty vehicles, rail and maritime vessels, and the power sector.
For the hydrogen economy to happen, a safe transport system from plant to consumer is needed. Existing pipelines for natural gas are currently being studied for their suitability to transport hydrogen.
A large part of Europe’s natural gas grid is made of PVC pipes. In the Netherlands alone, 80,000 km of PVC pipes are installed.
The research conducted on the Dutch grid and other studies confirm PVC pipes are fit for the hydrogen economy.
PVC covers ensure safe storage of biogas
In some European countries, locally generated biogas can contribute significantly to reach renewable energy targets. Biogas is a type of biofuel naturally produced from the decomposition of organic matter, such as livestock manure, waste from agricultural production and food waste collected from households and businesses. In Denmark, biogas already makes up about 20% of the natural gas that goes into the grid, and other countries are also investing in green gas production.
Highly volatile and also explosive substances such as biogas can only be stored in containers that offer the maximum safety. That is why PVC covers can be seen on storage tanks across Europe. The sturdy and flexible PVC membranes allow the storage tank to be filled gradually without any risk of leaks of gas or odour. PVC is also used for piping systems in biogas production facilities, for instance the world’s biggest plant in Switzerland.
Pipes for geothermal energy
Clean energy is in plenty supply a few metres below ground. Local and constantly available, geothermal energy is an excellent contribution to the energy mix. Iceland is the best-known example of how to turn the earth’s heat into district heating and electricity. Geothermal sources account for a whopping 66% of Iceland’s primary energy use and 9 out of 10 homes are heated directly by geothermal energy.
In the rest of Europe that do not share Iceland’s unique geology, there is also a huge potential in sourcing renewable energy from the ground. Earth-to-air heat exchangers are already used for heating and cooling of homes, businesses, schools and many other types of buildings. PVC has shown to be a well suited material for the construction of tubes in earth-to-air heat exchangers. This is due to the low price, low weight, long service life and ease of assembly.
The future’s biofuel grows in PVC pipes
While electrification of Europe’s car fleet is going at a fast pace, the decarbonisation of trucks and other heavy vehicles will most probably depend on biofuels in the short term.
Biofuels made from algae is a promising technology, as it does not take up farmland and captures CO2 from the atmosphere in the process.
Algae can also be turned into raw material for food, health products, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, fertiliser, water treatment products and various chemicals.
Innovations in PVC are instrumental in the viability of cultivating algae for biofuel. These innovations aim to provide optimum growth conditions and improve photobioreactor efficiency, both of which are vital for minimising production costs.
Transparent PVC piping systems have proven to be a significant development for biofuel technology. Thin-walled PVC piping allows maximum light penetration, which is essential for accelerating photosynthesis. Rapid photosynthesis increases the algae biomass and therefore the amount of available biofuel.