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Carbon Capture

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Carbon Capture ( carbon-capture )

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MEA solution is heated to release almost pure CO2. The lean MEA solution is then recycled to the absorber. An initial reaction some people have to CO2 capture technology is that it is “expensive”. However, “expensive” is a subjective (as opposed to objective) term. If one can produce CO2 for $25 per tonne from flue gas, is that expensive? Yes, if $10 per tonne CO2 is available from natural reservoirs. No, if one has to pay typical commercial rates of $70-100 per tonne. In applying these commercial processes to CO2 sequestration, it is worthwhile exploring why there is the perception that CO2 separation and capture is expensive. Reasons include: • It will always be more expensive to sequester CO2 than to just emit it to the atmosphere. • Most studies show that the bulk of the cost in sequestering power plant CO2 are due to separation and capture (including compression) as opposed to transport and injection. • The commercial MEA process is old and has not been optimized for sequestration. • The basis of design is very different for plants producing CO2 for commercial markets as compared to plants producing CO2 for sequestration. This relates to the difference between the cost of capture and the cost of avoidance, as discussed below. The primary difference in capturing CO2 for commercial markets versus capturing CO2 for sequestration is the role of energy. In the former case, energy is a commodity, and all we care about is its price. In the latter case, using energy generates more CO2 emissions, which is precisely what we want to avoid. Therefore, capturing CO2 for purposes of sequestration requires more emphasis on reducing energy inputs than the traditional commercial process. Figures 2 and 3 help define the difference between CO2 captured and CO2 avoided and the concept of the “energy penalty”. Other processes have been considered to capture the CO2 from the flue gas of a power plant -- e.g., membrane separation, cryogenic fractionation, and adsorption using molecular sieves -- but they are even less energy efficient and more expensive than chemical absorption. This can be attributed, in part, to the very low CO2 partial pressure in the flue gas. Therefore, two alternate strategies to the “flue gas” approach are under active consideration – the “oxygen” approach and the “hydrogen” or “syngas” approach. The major component of flue gas is nitrogen, which enters originally with the air feed. If there were no nitrogen, CO2 capture from flue gas would greatly simplified. This is the thinking behind the oxygen approach, where instead of air, the power plant is fed oxygen produced by an air separation plant. However, combustion with oxygen yields temperatures too large for today’s materials, so some flue gas must be recycled to moderate the temperature. Applying this process is easier for steam turbine plants than gas turbine plants. In the former, relatively straightforward boiler modifications are required. For the latter, much more complex gas turbine design changes will be required. 2

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