Abeinsa and Innovation: Introduction and Overview

Abeinsa is the Abengoa group’s industrial engineering and construction division. Research, development and innovation are naturally core capabilities in this field.
Innovation at Abeinsa focuses on energy and industrial facilities. The company undertakes the bulk of its projects in Spain, Europe and Latin America. Major activities include designing and developing solar plants - particularly solar thermal - and biofuel production plants, improving conventional plants and railway facilities, designing substations and containers, and stringing major power transmission lines.

Abeinsa’s research and development capability ranges over three major areas:

  • Abeinsa Nuevas Tecnologías is a business-oriented R&D&I concern; it operates within each Abeinsa company, with a focus on the specific business at hand. The main lines of work conducted by Abeinsa Nuevas Tecnologías are CO2 capture and valorization, energy efficiency consultancy and research, electric car development, ocean energy, and telecommunications.
  • Abeinsa Nuevos Horizontes embraces companies like Hynergreen (hydrogen and fuel-cell technology) and Zeroemissions (carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas management), independently managed businesses which concentrate on specific technologies tightly linked to research and development.
  • Abengoa Research encompasses high-end innovative research and development activities and operates as an ideas nursery for Abeinsa and Abengoa, generating new research horizons. Its interests include materials, nanotechnology, fluid mechanics, solid mechanics, structures, thermal engineering, process engineering, biotechnology and power networks.

Abeinsa’s research and development efforts are undertaken in partnership with numerous research institutes and universities in Spain and elsewhere. Collaboration with these centers and the academic world is one of the pillars upholding the company’s development strategy.


R&D&I Programs

The following is a list of Abeinsa’s key research and development projects undertaken or completed over 2010 in each of the group’s strategic lines of concern.

Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies

This strategic line of research subdivides into: Production, storage and use of hydrogen from renewable sources; and development of fuel-cell systems. In line with established practice, the main research milestones of the year have been patented, and the company’s scientific achievements have been disseminated via conferences and published articles.

Renewable Hydrogen Production, Storage and Use 

Hydrogen, a colorless, odorless gas, is both an energy vector requiring production and a form of energy storage. It is a fuel that can be produced using available resources and used as needed.

Hynergreen’s hydrogen production research embraces bioethanol and biodiesel reforming at various scales and for different uses, electrolysis, and thermochemical cycle studies oriented to solar thermal energy use.

In the storage field, the year’s highlights include work on metal hydrides, borohydrides, nanostructures and hydrosilanes, oriented to both portable and transportation applications and the stationary sector. 

23 Hynergreen led the Hercules project, where a hydrogen station was installed; as well a car was adapted to use it in a fuel cell

Fuel Cells 

Fuel cells are electrochemical devices that directly convert the chemical energy present in a hydrogen molecule (or a molecule containing hydrogen) into electricity and heat to a high degree of efficiency, while offering advantages such as modularity, a low failure rate and robustness.

In 2010, Hynergreen worked on a range of different fuel-cell projects. Some of the key applications have been aimed at the portable sector, with units in the 20 W to 100 W range, and the transportation sector, with systems producing electricity for propulsion purposes in the range of 50 kW to 300 kW.

The company also worked on adapting and converting fuel cells’ output capacity and on control systems and data capture networks associated with these technologies.

Projects tend to be based on polymer fuel cells (PEMFC), although the company has also worked in the high temperature sector. 

Carbon Dioxide and Other Greenhouse Gas Emissions Management

Zeroemissions’ new technologies division focuses on developing greenhouse gas emission reduction technologies and on studying the impact of these technologies on the environment via R&D&I projects. The division’s research program bears the title “Development of Technologies and Know-How in Emissions Reduction Techniques and Evaluation of the Environmental Impact of Human Activities.”

The program encompasses a range of different research projects. Progress made in 2010 is outlined below. 

RNCO2 Project

A study of new highly energy-efficient steam compression refrigeration plants using carbon dioxide as a natural cooling agent instead of HFC-type fluoride gases, thus achieving both direct and indirect emissions reductions in the field of refrigeration and climate control. ABNT is working in partnership with the Polytechnic University of Valencia and University Jaime I of Castellon.

In 2010, the company analyzed the lifecycle of different refrigeration techniques, comparing the production requirements of refrigeration equipment and gases, energy use throughout their useful lives, and emissions associated with leakage and end-of-life scenarios for equipment and gases.

24 The energy cost should take into consideration the emissions cost associated

Abanilla Project 

This study monitors gases produced at the Abanilla landfill, evaluates the techniques used to purify biogas, and calculates the emissions prevented by the use of landfill biogas. The project is underway in partnership with Energía Sur de Europa and AICIA.

In 2010, the company installed a device to monitor the composition and quantity of biogas generated by the Abanilla landfill in Murcia, Spain. This ongoing monitoring supports calculations of the greenhouse gas emissions prevented by utilization for energy purposes of the biogas. The company also examined the cleaning capacity of various motor filters. 

AEMEP Project

The aim of this project is to reduce, monitor and verify the reduction of total equivalent carbon dioxide emissions from livestock slurry via selection, installation and optimization of a livestock waste treatment system capable of generating methane based on anaerobic digestion of slurry mixed with purification plant sludge and the organic fraction of urban waste for subsequent value recovery for energy purposes in the form of heat and/or electricity. The project is being undertaken in partnership with the University of Leon and Cogersa.

In 2010, the company developed a methodology to calculate the emissions prevented by co-digestion of wastes, based on methodologies and tools developed by the United Nations.

Upcoming Projects

Ventures now at the launch stage in the field of emissions reduction techniques and assessment of the environmental impact of human activities include the Bioglicer, Watersol and Biocar projects.

CO2 Capture and Valorization

Over the course of 2010, the company made significant progress in key R&D&I initiatives relating to CO2 capture and valorization..

Mineral Carbonation of CO2: Wollastonite Project

La fijación de carbono mediante carbonatación mineral es una tecnología que imita la erosión natural de las rocas de calcio o magnesio que ha tenido lugar desde la creación de la Tierra. 

Carbon sequestration by mineral carbonation is a technology that mimics the natural weathering of calcium- and magnesium-based rock that has taken place since the formation of planet Earth.

In a carbonation reaction, carbon dioxide reacts with materials (chiefly silicates) containing metallic oxides to form carbonate and silica. These minerals include olivine, serpentine and wollastonite.

The main advantage of mineral sequestration is that the products are mineral carbonates that remain unchanged over time (millions of years) - unaffected by the environment, they are even reusable as raw materials in various processes (e.g., cement manufacturing).

Mineral carbonation, though still at the research phase, has evolved along a variety of routes in terms of experimental protocols and results at the laboratory scale. Literature published to date expresses a number of caveats, but at present this appears to be the only carbon dioxide sequestration method free of the long-term risk of gas leakage, thus removing the need for post-storage leakage control and monitoring processes.

The Wollastonite project was begun in late 2009 and will run through 2011. Conducted in partnership with the University of Seville, it is funded by the Ministry of Science and Innovation and the Innovation, Science and Enterprise Department of the regional government of Andalusia.

The project analyzes the technical and economic viability of carbon dioxide carbonation processes using silica and calcium compounds such as wollastonite, and identifies the specifications required for the design of an integrated carbon dioxide capture and sequestration system as applied to an industrial facility generating large quantities of the gas (power plants, cement manufacturing plants). In addition, applications are being considered for carbonation by-products. 

Oxy-Fuel Combustion Technologies: AvantO2 Project 

Oxy-fuel combustion is a new energy generation technology consisting in burning coal or natural gas in pure oxygen (instead of air), so creating a gas outflow chiefly comprising carbon dioxide and steam.

The technology requires a large oxygen input. As an estimate, a 500 MW oxy-fuel combustion plant would need approximately 10,000 t of oxygen per day; at present, this would be feasible only through cryogenic air separation. However, the technology carries a very high energy cost - a 500 MW plant operating for 8,000 h would necessitate an air separation unit consuming energy equivalent to 15 % of the plant’s annual power output, making for a penalty of 10 % on the plant’s overall efficiency.

Inabensa is exploring alternatives for mass oxygen production. The company is now focusing on oxygen transport membranes (OTMs), and hopes to lower the overall efficiency-loss of an oxy-fuel combustion plant to the level of 5 %. OTMs are ceramic membranes having the distinctive property of selectively allowing permeation by oxygen, thus creating a pure oxygen flow.

As part of the AvantO2 project, conducted from 2008 to late 2009 with a subsidy awarded by the Ministry of Science and Innovation, Inabensa benefited from the expertise of the CSIC Chemical Technology Institute for the development of new ion-conducting ceramics to be applied in air-oxygen separation processes.

As a result, the team identified promising materials for efficient oxygen production. A second phase of the project has been launched to continue researching and improving these materials and find the best way to integrate the membranes thus developed with an oxy-fuel combustion plant.

Bio-Sequestration using Photosynthetic Microorganisms: Cenit SOST-CO2 Project

This project has made considerable headway in carbon dioxide sequestration using photosynthetic microorganisms (microalgae and cyanobacteria) for energy purposes and as biomass. A promising strain has been selected, and knowledge has improved as to the optimal conditions for achieving the highest cultivation yield. 

25 Abeinsa works in the development of liquid absorbing CO2

Forward motion has also been achieved in designing and synthesizing ionic liquids for the specific purpose of absorbing carbon dioxide as a potentially viable and competitive alternative to existing commercially available amine-based absorbent agents.

Energy Efficiency Consultancy and Research

Product and Plant Reengineering; Energy Evaluations

Energy efficiency in equipment and facilities used not to be a design parameter, chiefly because energy was cheap and engineers sought to optimize individual performance elements rather than take an all-embracing approach.

Inabensa is redesigning several of its products by analyzing potential performance improvements over their useful lives. All design aspects - mechanical, thermal, electrical - and manufacturing features are considered in combination, and the energy performance of the whole ensemble is evaluated. For instance, an appraisal is made of the benefits of using a more efficient component (transformer, switch, frequency converter) that, though expensive initially, reduces losses and generates less heat. In turn, given the lower thermal load, the climate control system can be smaller, consume less, and thus lead to lower costs. Improvements of this kind pay for themselves very quickly and garner environmental benefits. 

26 Developments in the efficinecy will help to reduce the primary energy consumption

Energy assessments are not confined to equipment; the company is also evaluating entire sites: Offices, facilities, manufacturing shops and energy plants.

Electricity Storage and Energy Management 

Until recently electricity flowed from large power stations to consumers by a one-way route. This concept has now evolved, however, with the advent of renewable energy and distributed generation. Storage and management will be key issues in the emergence of a safer, more efficient and sustainable grid. In this arena, Inabensa is involved in the Sa2ve initiative, a Unique Strategic Project funded by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation. The research develops storage technology via inertia wheels applied to a range of sectors, including railways. The Ferro Sa2ve sub-project stores the braking energy generated by a given train in an inertia wheel, and releases it as needed to another train, e.g., during acceleration, by returning the energy to the overhead contact line. Inabensa has designed and executed the renovation works for the power substation where the trials are being run, and has brought the various elements together: Inertia wheels, electric converters, protection systems, quality assurance, etc.

Alongside storage research, Inabensa is considering the possibility of transmitting brake energy to the power grid, thus turning substations into two-way systems. 

Electric Car Alternatives

Abeinsa is firmly committed to making progress towards sustainable mobility, a concept that emerged in response to concern about the environmental and social issues surrounding the fact that, in the second half of the twentieth century, urban transportation became based predominantly on the use of private vehicles. The drawbacks of this model are atmospheric pollution, overuse of energy, traffic congestion, and harmful effects on health. Inabensa is accordingly determined to find alternatives that mitigate the adverse consequences and lead to a new, more sustainable model. Transportation accounts for one-fourth of greenhouse gas emissions and 36 % of energy use in Spain.

Keeping faith with this commitment, Inabensa’s R&D&I department has launched a new line of research under the name “Electric Car Alternatives,” with the ultimate aim of creating new business models. This line of research focuses on two areas:

  • Energy storage. Inabensa R&D&I is confident that the key to successfully implementing a new, sustainable transportation model is to store energy in cells and make full use of the autonomy they are capable of providing.
  • Smart Metering & Smart Grid concepts, and their integration with renewable sources of energy. The aim here is to dovetail the company’s efforts with research conducted in this field by other Abengoa companies.

Ocean Energy

Abengoa is committed to developing technologies that harness renewable energy resources and so contribute to the planet’s sustainable economic growth. This is why Abeinsa is involved in ongoing research towards these goals.

The ocean energy line pursued by Inabensa R&D&I is a prime example of this commitment. Ocean energy is a natural resource that, though harboring high potential, has so far been insufficiently explored.

Abeinsa has analyzed the sector so as to frame its business strategy within this incipient industry, with a view to diversifying its operational scope.

Several lines of activity are now in progress, embracing the main points identified to develop the company’s business strategy:

  • Wave energy: Applications for large-scale power generation.
  • Market niches: Water desalination applications, other minor applications, etc.
  • Auxiliary businesses. 

27 The sea has a big energetic potential to be explored

This far-ranging analysis process has involved Inabensa in both domestic and European R&D&I projects. Exhaustive technological observation of the sector enables Abeinsa to operate at the forefront of development in an industry that is set to revolutionize the world energy scene and the marine industry.


mIO! Project

The mIO! project, one of the ICT ventures in the mobility area, is funded for the 2008-2011 period by the CDTI’s Cenit program. The objective of project mIO! (technologies for providing mobility services in the coming intelligent universe) is to realize technologies that allow ubiquitous services to be provided in an intelligent environment, adapted to each individual and to his/her context, using the mobile device as the base for interaction with both services provided by companies and with microservices created and provided by the mobility users themselves.

Taking forward the overall goals of the mIO! project calls for a technological leap that goes far beyond the present state of the art.

This leap will entail scientific and technological progress in fields as diverse as:

  • Mobility service technologies created and provided by individuals: Service description models, mobile service delivery platforms, semantic technologies, advanced usability and graphical interface models, open operator, device or service APIs, advanced search technologies and proximity technologies and protocols, etc.
  • Access interface technologies: Mobile devices as an advanced user interaction interface, new algorithms supporting higher device workloads, interface designs enabling immersive viewing, etc.
  • Context and personalization management technologies: New mechanisms for modeling knowledge obtained from users, services and devices.
  • Mobility service technologies created and provided by businesses: Integration of smart card and mobility technologies, integration of multiple smart devices with different features within a mobility environment, etc.
  • Communication and connectivity technologies: Definition of communication and information exchange mechanisms among the mobile device, the user and his/her environment, support techniques for frequent transfers resulting from nomadism in an environment with intelligent infrastructures, new capacities and services deployment models via NGN and IMS architectures, etc. 
Inredis Project

As one of the ICT projects geared towards social inclusiveness and independent living, Inredis secured funding for the 2007-2010 period from the CDTI’s Cenit program.

The core goal of the Inredis project (INterfaces de RElación entre el entorno y las personas con DIScapacidad) is to develop fundamental technologies capable of supporting channels for communication and interaction between people with special needs and their environment.

The technological challenges that the Inredis project seeks to address are:

  • Analyzing the technological environment and identifying the state of the art in emerging technologies applicable to the interaction between people with disabilities and information society applications and services.
  • Analyzing the technical, semantic and organizational specifications relevant to the development of a communication protocol supporting interoperability among existing technologies.
  • Analyzing human-machine interaction technologies that offer the potential for a qualitative leap in the relationship between people with disabilities and the information society (speech processing, psychophysiology, image processing, text processing, emotional technology, haptics and intelligent textiles).
  • Researching the most innovative aspects of each technology and conducting validation and checks using an experimental platform.
  • Integrating the interoperability protocol developed within the project with user devices and their respective Ubiquitous Technical Applications.
  • Modeling a mobile system or device that can mesh with different communication protocols and be used by functionally diverse people in a safe and intuitive way.
  • Producing a white paper on the design of accessible, interoperable technology. 
Iza Project

Also within the field of social inclusiveness and independent living, the Iza project (“Intelligent System for Service Provision in a Residential Setting for People with Physical and/or Cognitive Disabilities”) is funded by the Avanza R&D&I sub-program operated by MITyC (Spain’s Ministry of Industry, Tourism and Trade) over the period 2008-2010.

The core goal of this project is to develop an intelligent system offering ad hoc services to carers of people with physical and/or cognitive disabilities residing in nursing homes.

The carer can use a personalized interface to monitor his/her users’/residents’ activities in real time, establish standard behavioral patterns, identify deviations from preset models, and achieve early diagnosis and correction of diseases signaled by known behavioral patterns, with the ultimate aim of enhancing residents’ quality of life and personal autonomy.

The project provides a service platform focusing on support for people with physical and/or cognitive disabilities and their carers, who may be family members or nursing home staff. The personalized interface removes the need for the user to interact with any device manually: The environment itself captures the data and takes steps accordingly.

A major step forward with respect to commercially available solutions is a combination of emerging technologies such as ZigBee, Wi-Fi-M2M, PLC and UWB to create a single intelligent system operating autonomously.

The challenge is to find comprehensive solutions that support carers dealing with the day-to-day activities of people with physical and/or cognitive disabilities.