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(introduction to article)
A $20 million global competition to convert flue gas CO2 into usable products aims to incentivize carbon utilization rather than storage [key term: Utilize], and could ultimately point to a new role for coal- and gas-fired power plants.
The Global CCS Institute (GCCSI) has identified 38 large-scale projects underway around the world, of which it expects over 20 to be online by the end of 2017. Both the Emirates Steel Industries CCS Project (the first phase of Abu Dhabi's Al Reyadah CCUS project), representing the first large-scale application of CCS for iron- and steelmaking, and Japan's Tomakomai CCS Demonstration Project, which features CO2 capture at a hydrogen production facility, were launched this year. And, in addition to Petra Nova, two large-scale CCS projects are set to come online in the US: the first large-scale bio-CCS project (the Illinois Industrial Carbon Capture and Storage Project) and the first CCS project at a commercial-scale coal gasification power plant (Mississippi's Kemper County Energy Facility). Other projects are underway in Canada, Australia, Europe, South America, Asia and the Middle East, and a number of pilot and demonstration projects are already online worldwide. Of the existing CCS facilities, SaskPower's Boundary Dam project in Canada recently logged the capture of over one million tonnes of CO2 since its startup in 2014.
[Those are the industrial projects already underway]
One group believes it has identified the barriers slowing down CCS development, and in response has launched a global competition aimed at commercializing new carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) technologies. The XPrize Foundation's NRG COSIA Carbon XPrize competition, which will conclude in 2020, offers a $7.5 million prize to each winning demonstration project on two tracks, one to be demonstrated at utility scale with flue gas from a coal-fired power plant, and the other with flue gas from a gas-fired plant. The competition began in 2015 with 47 project teams from seven countries including carbon capture technology companies, academic institutions, non-profits, startups and even a father-and-son team.
Among the carbon utilization projects are teams hoping to produce fuels for power generation and transport, cement, polymers, proteins, chemicals and chemical precursors, and advanced materials such as [carbon] nanotubes and graphene. Canada's Carbon-Cure Technologies aims to produce concrete, while US-based Carbon Upcycling UCLA is aiming for 3D-printed concrete replacement building material. Switzerland's Aljadix is focused on carbon-negative biofuel, and India's Breathe on methanol. US-based Protein Power is aiming for fish food, while Canada's Tandem Technical's goals are health supplements, toothpaste, paint and fertilizers.
To this end, the Round 2 semi-finalists will demonstrate their technologies at pilot scale, using either real or simulated flue gas. Over a 10-month period the teams must meet the competition's minimum requirements, including converting at least 30 per cent of the CO2 in a flue gas stream, consuming less than 4 cubic metres of fresh water per tonne of CO2 converted, requiring a land footprint of less than ca 2300 square metres and demonstrating a pathway to overall CO2 emissions reduction. Points will be awarded both for how much CO2 is converted and for the net value of the resulting products.
Two world-leading clean energy projects have opened in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu.
A £3m industrial plant is capturing the CO2 emissions from a coal boiler and using the CO2 to make valuable chemicals. It is a world first.
And just 100km away is the world's biggest solar farm, making power for 150,000 homes on a 10 sq km site.
The industrial plant appears especially significant as it offers a breakthrough by capturing CO2 without subsidy.
Here's how it works:
1. The plant operates a coal-fired boiler to make steam for its chemical operations.
2. CO2 emissions from the boiler's chimney are stripped out by a fine mist of a new patented chemical.
3. A stream of CO2 is fed into the chemicals plant as an ingredient for baking soda and other compounds with many uses, including the manufacturing of glass, detergents and sweeteners. [Right now they are making sodium bicarbonate—i.e., baking soda].
In the present, he believes the Carbon XPrize can transform both the power sector and a number of other industries. While the project teams are "making claims which not invalid but are hard to evaluate," he says,"we're now giving them chance to prove it.
"I believe them because I've seen the technology," he adds. "If they can all demonstrate [their projects] at scale, against each other, I will be the first one saying 'the world has changed'."
The Tuticorin zero-emission factory is a coal-fueled power plant that has invented a revolutionary system to trap the CO2 emissions from the coal boiler and turn them into soda ash – which can be used to make baking soda and a variety of other compounds with many uses, including detergents and sweeteners. The factory states that the process has reduced its carbon emissions to virtually zero and on top of that, the production of baking soda prevents an estimated 60,000 tons of CO2 emissions from entering the world’s atmosphere each year. Not only is this technique an incredible scientific discovery, it is a revolutionary economic tactic as well.
The Tuticorin factory will be the first factory to make CO2 emission reductions profitable. Ramachadran Gopalan, the factory’s owner, told the BBC, “I am a businessman. I never thought about saving the planet. I needed a reliable stream of CO2, and this was the best way of getting it.”
Initially, the ORNL team was studying methods to remove environmental contaminants such as sulfate, chromate, or phosphate from water. To remove those negatively charged ions, the researchers synthesized a simple compound known as guanidine designed to bind strongly to the contaminants and form insoluble crystals that are easily separated from water.
In the process, they discovered a method to capture and release carbon dioxide that requires minimal energy and chemical input.
Traditional direct air capture materials must be heated up to 900 degrees Celsius to release the gas—a process that often emits more carbon dioxide than initially removed. The ORNL-developed guanidine material offers a less energy-intensive alternative.
“Through our process, we were able to release the bound carbon dioxide by heating the crystals at 80-120 degrees Celsius, which is relatively mild when compared with current methods,” Custelcean said. After heating, the crystals reverted to the original guanidine material. The recovered compound was recycled through three consecutive carbon capture and release cycles.
Twelve billion tons of carbon dioxide spew into the air every year from power plants burning coal, oil and natural gas around the world. And energy demand only keeps growing.