​Marriage of new solvent and contactor technologies could cut carbon capture costs

A $3 million, three country collaboration effort will combine a unique contactor container developed in the U.S. with a novel new precipitating solvent developed in Norway in an attempt to bring down the cost of carbon capture.

If successful, the technology will be scaled to commercial level in Canada.

U.S.-based Westec Environmental Solutions (WES) developed the new contactors—the vessels in which CO2 is captured by a solvent. Typically large and expensive to build and operate, WES’s innovative design is compact and can tolerate solids formed by precipitates without clogging.

The unique properties of the WES contactor provide for high mass transfer efficiency and the ability to operate in a three phase flow condition that enables new solutions to solvent based capture processes to reduce operating and capital costs. The first demonstration of the technology was a pilot line on a coal power plant in Australia.

The WES contactor will use a new precipitating solvent designed and developed by SINTEF, the largest independent research organization in Scandinavia. The SINTEF product is more efficient than most solvents currently in use. It reacts with and absorbs CO2 more rapidly than other solvents, the regeneration process takes place at a lower temperature, uses less energy and can have a lower environmental footprint.

The Carbon Capture and Conversion Institute (CCCI), a business division of CMC Research Institutes in Canada, will be responsible for engineering design work to scale up the process if initial tests are promising. CCCI is an initiative between CMC Research Institutes, BC Research Inc. and the University of British Columbia’s Clean Energy Research Centre.

The project is lead by SINTEF and funded by CLIMIT – Norway’s national carbon capture and storage research funding program.

“The aim of this very exciting project is to demonstrate, for the first time, a system that streamlines the capture process and eliminates several stages. This will make the overall operation significantly less capital and energy intensive,” said Goran Vlajnic, executive director of the CCCI. “If successful, the new process could play a significant role in reducing industrial emissions.”

Although industry and power generation account for 46 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, companies are reluctant to install carbon capture technologies because of high operating costs.

“I believe this project offers a clear route to cost reducing innovations, thanks to its uniquely international and multidisciplinary approach,” Ugochukwu Edwin Aronu, SINTEF scientist and project leader, said in a statement, adding that the project marks a milestone in terms of the development of capture technology.

“For the first time, an advanced precipitating CO2 capture technology will be demonstrated in a full height state-of-the art pilot plant facility, integrating two unique solvent and contactor technologies. Successful demonstration will take this technology a step closer to commercialization.”

The contactor and solvent will be brought together for testing and validation in Trondheim, Norway next year. If the results are positive, CCCI experts will engineer and design a system to scale up the process. In the third stage of development, CCCI will design a modular unit that can be tested at the Institute’s technology development centre or in an industrial setting.