As an innovative company, for years now RAG has been working on solutions for a future shaped by clean and fully reliable energy supplies. So much so, in fact, that it now sees itself as a byword for "renewables and gas". Combining traditional gas storage with renewables unlocks the challenges of energy storage and creating a needs-based structure on an industrial scale, while safeguarding the climate and the environment for future generations.
Our subsurface engineering expertise, technological capabilities and innovative capacity have all allowed us to develop our "sustainable energy mining" concept.
RAG is pursuing a strategy for the sustainable after-use of natural gas production sites. Each of our reservoirs is evaluated to assess its long term suitability for energy storage, green gas or geothermal projects. A large proportion of our natural gas reservoirs have already been converted into storage facilities for natural gas and other energy forms.
Sustainable energy mining is set to drive innovation in Austrian industry, cut transport-related greenhouse gas emissions, boost economic growth in the regions and reduce dependence on energy imports.
Sector coupling refers to the networking of and collaboration between the power, gas, heating and industrial sectors to create the integrated energy system of the future.
Cross-sectoral solutions that companies in the energy production, electricity and gas infrastructure sectors arrive at in collaboration with industry are essential for the development of a sustainable energy system and achieving significant reductions in carbon dioxide emissions.
The major expansion of renewable energy generation required to meet climate protection targets represents a formidable challenge for security of supply and for existing energy infrastructure, which needs to be able to cope with the growth in erratic renewable power generation.
The answer: renewable energy forms are converted into green gas (hydrogen and, subsequently, natural gas) through electrolysis. This means that a portion of the energy collected from the sun and the wind in summer can be stored as gas, in underground pore reservoirs, to be used in winter and/or produce synthetic methane by means of natural processes. The stored energy can be withdrawn in large quantities at any time as required, and quickly delivered using existing infrastructure.
The goal is to use sustainable, green energy to fully cover demand at all of RAG's operations by 2030. RAG is converting well sites (a total of up to 220) into solar energy plants equipped with photovoltaic systems. This will enable us to generate up to 60,000 megawatt hours of climate-neutral energy a year, which will be used to power RAG's facilities. The electricity generated during the summer is converted, stored in our gas reservoirs and used in winter for the carbon-neutral operation of drive units at our storage facilities.
RAG's innovative capacity has enabled it to become a sustainable technology leader in the European energy storage and supply sector. Besides conventional natural gas, RAG is focusing on novel green gas production technologies such as power-to-gas and climate-neutral methane splitting.
We have the resources, infrastructure and know-how to drive the development and roll-out of innovative, forward-looking, carbon-neutral energy solutions. Internationally registered patents are testament to RAG's expertise in this field, as a company that invests about EUR 6 million in research and development annually.
We are participating in a number of international research projects aimed at converting renewables such as wind and solar power into gas that can then be transported using existing natural gas infrastructure and stored.
The Underground Sun Storage and Underground Sun Conversion projects have opened up the unique proposition of storing large volumes of green gas produced from renewable sources such as solar and wind seasonally and carbon neutrally, underground, for withdrawal when needed - in the form of gas for use in power and heat generation, in transportation and as a raw material.
Methane splitting offers a climate-neutral and carbon-neutral breakthrough in the production of hydrogen and carbon. Working alongside respected industry partners and experts from the University of Leoben, in its role of project coordinator RAG is helping to develop emission-free production of affordable hydrogen and carbon using methane splitting.
The spectrum of gaseous energy sources is broad. It ranges from conventional natural gas to green gas such as hydrogen.
Gaseous energy sources are required in every area of life: to heat homes, generate electricity safely, fuel clean transportation, and for affordable industrial production.
Energy in the form of gas can be transported out of sight underground, stored in very large quantities and made available quickly in large volumes.
Gas can be produced from renewable energy sources (wind and solar energy) and thus stored.
Natural gas is a raw material with universal applications. Deposits are principally composed of methane (CH4) - a simple compound of carbon (C) and hydrogen (H), which can be bonded and separated synthetically. This compound will spearhead our progress towards a renewable energy future.
Hydrocarbons are formed from organic material such as animal and plant remains. Microorganisms and algae that live in water sink to the sea bed when they die and become embedded in mud. This leads to the formation of what is called source rock - a layer of mud which oxygen cannot reach. Over time, the source rock is covered by more and more layers of mud, leading to increases in pressure and temperature. Under such conditions, dead organic material turns into kerogen, and ultimately into hydrocarbons, which then migrate from the source rock to adjoining layers with higher porosity, such as sandstone. If this sandstone is sealed by a layer of rock, the conditions are in place for the formation of a gas field.
The process by which organic matter turns into gas began hundreds of millions of years ago below ground, and is still in progress today.
The term 'green gas' refers to all gaseous energy forms that enable carbon-free, low-carbon or carbon-neutral production and consumption: it can be produced using wind power, solar energy or biomass. Whether in the shape of hydrogen produced using methane splitting, biomethane, or naturally produced green gas - gaseous energy sources are the future. Green gas not only has vast potential, it is sustainable, affordable and storable.
Gas is particularly efficient: in combined heat and power (CHP) plants, where thermal energy from gas is used to generate heat as well as electricity, efficiency is close to 90%. And if gas is used in a condensing boiler, efficiency can reach 96%.
It can be stored in large volumes and is suitable for below-ground transport. RAG's subterranean gas storage facilities contain around 71 TWh - all of Austria's pumped storage plants combined can store around 0.14 TWh. Both storage formats are an important part of safeguarding security of supply - by guarding against both daily and seasonal swings.
When gas arrives at a storage facility via a pipeline network, it first enters a metering station where it is filtered, and the quantity and quality are measured. Injection to and withdrawal from the reservoir take place via a number of wells. Where necessary, compressors bring the incoming gas (working gas) up to the right injection pressure.
Since compression raises the temperature, the gas must then be cooled before being conveyed to the wellhead and injected into the natural rock formations. It's vital to ensure that the original reservoir pressure is never exceeded.
Working gas is injected and withdrawn as required, which cuts operating costs and helps maintain high environmental standards.
Whenever the gas is withdrawn it must be reprocessed. It must be dried and cleaned as it will have absorbed moisture in the reservoir. Once "on-specification", it enters the grid and is transported to the consumer.
Austria's energy storage facilities shoulder the responsibility for long-term, high-volume energy storage, ensuring that seasonal imbalances can be evened out. As energy generation from renewable sources grows, the need for large-volume, seasonal storage capacity also increases, in order to balance out the seasonal swings from energy surplus (excess solar energy in summer) to deficit (increased demand due to low temperatures in winter). Storage enables accustomed levels of supply security to be maintained at all times.
With a total storage capacity of more than 6.2 billion cubic metres (bn cu m), RAG's energy storage facilities make a major contribution to security of supply in Central Europe. Barely any other EU member state has such high storage capacity in comparison with consumption. Currently still used primarily for traditional natural gas, they will in future enable the seasonal storage of green gas such as hydrogen for withdrawal at high capacity and at any time.
Several studies have investigated the hydrogen tolerance of gas infrastructure: one such example, the Underground Sun Storage project, demonstrated that existing infrastructure copes well with hydrogen content of up to 10% (20% in the USC project). The Underground Sun Storage 2030 follow-up project will test the hydrogen tolerance of our storage facilities for contents of up to 100%.
These projects raise the prospect of repositioning natural gas storage facilities, with their enormous storage capacity, as hydrogen stores in the energy system of the future. They will play the role of large-scale, seasonal storage facilities for renewable energy, just as RAG's gas storage facilities do today.
RAG operates and continues to develop a total of 11 storage facilities: joint-venture and wholly-owned pore storage facilities in Salzburg and Upper Austria, as well as one research storage facility. These include Haidach (2.9bn cu m; joint venture), 7Fields (1.55bn cu m; joint venture), the Puchkirchen/Haag, Haidach 5, Aigelsbrunn and 7Fields (RAG) storage facilities, and research storage facilities in Pilsbach and Rubensdorf.
Liquefied natural gas (LNG) is natural gas that has been converted to a fluid aggregate state by cooling it to a temperature of around -163°C. Liquefaction makes it possible to transport and store 600 times as much energy in the same space. The gas can be produced in Austria or transported to customers in specially designed road, barge and sea-going tankers.
Chemically speaking, liquefied biogas (LBG) is liquid methane, so it is identical to LNG and can be used for exactly the same purposes; the difference is that it comes from renewable sources, meaning that it is particularly environmentally friendly.
RAG is collaborating with Hitachi Zosen Inova AG to produce renewable organic LNG, a fuel which will allow trucks to run emission-free using locally-sourced fuel.
Compressed natural gas (CNG) is used in compressed gaseous form to fuel cars: it primarily comprises natural methane, biogas and, increasingly in future, green gas.
Gas is the cheapest and safest way to cut road traffic pollution. It has been used as an especially economical, safe and clean vehicle fuel in Austria and around the world for decades. The advantages are obvious: reduced nitrogen oxide emissions, reduced fine particulate emissions, reduced noise.
Gas is the ideal fuel for heavy goods vehicles. LNG-powered trucks are suitable for long-haul journeys: a single tankful is enough to cover more than 1,500 kilometres with a 40-tonne load, and emissions are lower than from an equivalent trip made using diesel. In economic terms, LNG is already the best available alternative to diesel, and it is therefore used by many environmentally-aware hauliers. Another advantage is the exemption for LNG vehicles from toll charges in Germany.
In the form of CNG, methane is also an affordable and eco-friendly alternative to conventional fuels for passenger vehicles. Using CNG vehicles can significantly improve air quality, especially in urban areas. CNG vehicles are also quieter. Natural gas burns more slowly, and hence more gently, making it only about half as noisy as diesel.
Major investments are being made in infrastructure (filling stations) for gas-fuelled vehicles across Europe. RAG, too, operates LNG and CNG filling stations, giving drivers easier access to environmentally friendly, affordable natural gas.
RAG has been operating Austria's first LNG filling station at Ennshafen port in Upper Austria since September 2017. In 2019 it added another in Graz in partnership with F. Leitner Mineralöle GmbH. Both stations are open around the clock, every day of the year. For legal reasons, drivers are required to complete brief training before they are allowed to use the unstaffed facility.
CNG filling stations can now be found throughout Austria, and the network is growing all the time. The country has about 130 stations at the moment - relative to the size of the country, this makes it the most extensive network in Europe.
Since June 2016, RAG has operated two CNG filling stations in Gampern and Kremsmünster in Upper Austria. These self-service, unstaffed stations are open around the clock, every day of the year. In the coming years, further natural gas filling stations connected to RAG's production and storage operations will be opened to the public.
For business customers, we also offer construction and operation of natural gas filling stations that allow your fleet to conveniently and economically refuel at your own site. Gas is supplied from regional production plants or from our secure underground storage facilities.
For legal reasons, drivers are only allowed to use our unstaffed LNG filling stations after completing brief training. Full details of how to refuel at an LNG filling station can be found here: LNG instructions
In principle, the procedure for filling up vehicles with CNG is largely the same as that for conventional liquid fuels such as gasoline and diesel. It takes around the same length of time, with the only exception being that CNG is pumped into the vehicle's fuel tank via the hose as a gas. Most gas-powered cars are equipped with a bi-fuel drive system, meaning the engine can run on petrol as well as methane, and there is a separate fuel tank for petrol. Switching between fuels takes place automatically without the driver even noticing, even while the vehicle is in motion.
Safety is one of RAG's top priorities. We ensure safe places to work for all of our employees, as well as safe living environments for local residents and the local authorities where we operate by meeting the very highest safety standards.
Use of the latest technology, outstanding continuous training for our team, and forward-looking maintenance of our facilities are reflected in our exceptional quality, workplace safety and environmental protection standards. Health, safety and the environment are the pillars of our management system, which plays a central role at our company.
On the basis of clear processes, precisely defined guidelines and instructions, and efficient communication we go one step further, setting ourselves a target of zero accidents in all of our activities. Besides the health and safety measures designed to protect our own workforce, we also integrate contractors closely into our safety activities.
You can find our safety guidelines here.
Together with safety and environmental protection, sustainable and responsible stewardship of Austria's natural resources are paramount in everything we do. We pay particularly close attention to maximising environmental sustainability, optimising energy use, cutting emissions, use of waste avoidance technology, new methods for continuous surveillance and testing of plant and pipelines, as well as IT security and integrity management.
RAG is fully aware of its responsibilities as an energy company and recently published its second sustainability report: sustainability.rag-austria.at