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Pilot plant tests carbon capture equipment and methods

Imperial College London has opened a pilot plant that could help test and improve the latest carbon capture equipment and methods.

The facility, installed across four floors of the university’s chemical engineering department, will give students a hands-on experience of working in a petrochemical plant, as well as acting as a training and demonstration centre for industry.

Swiss automation company ABB has provided almost half the £2m cost of the plant, which uses a solvent to absorb CO2 from a stream of gas and then heats the mixture to separate the CO2, capturing up to 50kg an hour.

‘There are a number of areas where we can do research with this plant,’ project director Dr Daryl Williams told The Engineer. ‘They include optimisation of process and optimisation of the control of carbon capture.

‘We’re also able to look at different sorts of fluids… There are also other areas in terms of looking at corrosion, contamination. These are all operational issues in terms of carbon capture.’

Experimental data from the plant will also be used to validate computer models of carbon capture, he added.

The plant, which includes a working computerised control room, is based around two 11m-high columns through which the CO2-absorbing solvent monoethanolamine (MEA) is passed.

A mixture of nitrogen and CO2 is passed up through the absorber column where the CO2 reacts with and is captured by the MEA coming down.

The solution is then pumped to the top of a regenerator or ‘stripper’ column and heated to around 125ºC using a steam reboiler so it can be distilled and the CO2 gas removed, leaving the MEA to be returned to the start of the process.

‘There are a number of unique features about our plant that you won’t see anywhere else in the world,’ said Williams, citing the example of a much higher, more densely arranged number of instruments as an example.

‘That’s to allow us to do a better job of control and instrumentation but also to allow us to do improved research. We also, for example, have visualisation ports or portholes. You can look inside the process and see what’s happening.’

The plant was designed by Strata Technology and built by Tecno Project Industriale in Italy, and features control and measurement equipment provided by ABB.

Martin Grady, ABB’s oil, gas and petrochemical general manager, said in a statement: ‘We will be able to trial new technology in a low-risk, well-managed environment to gather Beta site test data. It also gives ABB a great platform to train its staff and customers on a real plant.’

Readers' comments (6)

  • Waste of time, money and common sense.

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  • An excellent platform for engineering research and development. This might prove the feasibility (or not) of this exciting technology.
    Also, it demonstrates how a close working relationship with industry can pay off.

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  • Words fail me Mr Anonymous, It's not your money or time being spent. This is another step along the great human journey of discovery, in this case finding ways to correct a century of blissful ignorance generated by an unfetered industrialisation. How can you denegrate research such as this?

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  • I'm with Keith Thompson on this one. CCT has to be an area of priority research - and, more importantly, commercialisation activity - alongside the search for cost-effective, and hence rapidly adopted, renewable energy systems.

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  • I'm all for research and understanding. My only issue is that we do not have records that go back far enough to understand the earth's cycles.

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  • The removal of CO2 is great! However I did feel that the article failed to quantify the benefit. Assuming the C02 is transported to a site where it can be stored (I understand old oil wells are being considered) It needs power to do this. What is the overall efficiency? I.e. the ratio of CO2 captured to the CO2 generated. Taking the non-recurring energy used to set up the plant, how long before a positive benefit is achieved?

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  • All valid questions. As this is a research and training pilot plant, it can't provide the answers to what the overall efficiency or benefits of systems including both carbon capture and storage will be. However, some studies have suggested they could use between 10 and 40 per cent of the energy created by a power station. But there are a range of technologies being trialled and different circumstances in each location. Once we have industrial-scale plants and carbon storage operating in the UK we should know more.


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