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.’