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The introduction to September/October's cover story discussing the state of carbon capture technology.
Now that coal plant emissions have been largely curtailed across much of Europe and North America, attention is swinging onto gas turbines. Such plants, by and large, do a good job at reducing emissions such as NOx and SOx.
However, the current demand is that gas-fired plants greatly reduce their carbon emissions. This can be accomplished either by pre-combustion carbon separation (usually using methane steam reforming to syngas with subsequent water shift and CO2 removal) or post-combustion flue gas CO2 removal.
The big hurdle, of course, is cost. Current technology is expensive and energy intensive. Not only is the carbon to be captured, it also needs to be stored somewhere and increasingly utilized in some process. Hence the term carbon capture utilization and storage (CCUS). (Note: It is also sometimes called CCS.)
Most attention, to date, has been lavished upon solvent-based capture i.e., the gas stream is exposed to a liquid medium to absorb CO2 via some kind of physical or chemical mechanism. Regeneration is also needed to break absorbent-CO2 bonds.
Drawbacks include high energy consumption, corrosion, difficulties in scaling, and raw economics. Why spend money to develop and implement the technology in an environment that shows little love for fossil-based fuels? Nevertheless, advances have been made. Amine-based solvents from Mitsubishi have been used in the Petra Nova facility in Texas. Shell Global’s CanSolv is another solvent being used at the Boundary Dam project in Canada. Similarly, physical absorption solvent breakthroughs have been made such as Lurgi’s Rectisol process using chilled methanol as a solvent. Further areas of development include: solid sorbents developed by Svante in conjunction with Chevron and others; the Polaris membrane by Membrane Technology and Research in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy; SES Innovation’s cryogenic carbon capture; and FuellCell Energy’s fuel cell technology for carbon capture, using electrochemical membranes to separate CO2 from industrial waste gas streams. Further, Chart Industries (owner of LA Turbine) has developed Cryogenic Carbon Capture (CCC) technology. The cost to produce cement and capture CO2 using CCC technology is said to be 24% higher than producing cement with no capture.
Another approach is direct air capture (DAC) to strip CO2 from air using chemical and physical processes. Those working on this include Climeworks with a plant in Switzerland and Carbon Engineering from British Columbia, Canada, that plans to build a Permian Basin facility to capture a million tonnes of CO2 per year by 2024 using a high-temperature aqueous method based on potassium hydroxide. Global Thermostat, too, has pioneered a porous, honeycomb ceramic approach to carbon capture.
According to IDTechEx, capturing a tonne of CO2 directly from the atmosphere costs between $600 and $1,300 using current technology, compared with approximately $40 to $80 for capturing a tonne of CO2 from the flue gas stream of a coal-fired power plant. Despite that, the analyst firm forecasts that DAC is likely to gain a growing share of global CO2 capture capacity over the next few decades.
Wherever you turn, there are contrasting views concerning carbon capture. Some see it as entirely feasible, some as completely impractical, and others are somewhere in the middle.
Geert Laagland, Head of Engineering at electricity and district heat utility Vattenfall, said high upfront costs for CCUS means it is only going to be viable if a plant is going to run a lot of hours.
Mark Axford, Principal at Axford Turbine Consultants believes that CCUS represents a more credible path to lower emissions than the ongoing love affair with hydrogen.
“Carbon capture of natural gas is probably a far more economical path than trying to convert everything to 100% hydrogen,” said Axford.
“Post-combustion CO2 removal is technically viable but impractical because of the large volume flow and the need for high ratio CO2 compression,” said Klaus Brun, Director, Research and Development, Elliott Group.