Return to sender: Investigating carbon capture
Thanks to a relatively small branch of its business in Kristiansand, Norway, Air Products & Chemicals may be about to become a forerunner in carbon capture, writes Charlie Bartlett
Thus far, Air Products Norway has been focused on developing nitrogen separator systems for gas carriers and other inert gas applications. Intake air is fed from a compressor through a membrane module bundled with hollow polymer fibres. This splits off ‘fast’ gases such as oxygen and hydrogen, which pass through the membrane wall and exit the system, leaving only ‘slow’ nitrogen gas.
The nitrogen is used in inerting pipes on chemical or product tankers, as well as on LNG carriers and reefer vessels. The bled-off hydrogen can also be used.
“It’s a simple process,” explains Air Products Norway business director Rune Damsgaard. “Small footprint, no solvents or chemicals used. No moving parts. It’s highly reliable, low maintenance.”
The company has made an exciting discovery. If exhaust is passed through a very similar type of system, 90% of the carbon can be separated from the other gases.
“Obviously we already have industrialised manufacture of membranes,” Damsgaard says. “We have teamed up with the Norwegian Technical University (NTNU) to reconfigure the composition of the polymer to be able to separate in a different way. We can decarbonise most of the gas streams coming from combustion using these membranes.
“The polymer is standardised – it’s called polysulfone. That is the carrier, the strength-providing material in the membrane. But it’s the coating that is the magic, and the controlled extrusion allows the leakage of gas through the membrane.”
At a NorCem cement factory at Brevik, small-scale testing with a containerised system produced “very good” results, taking a fraction of the exhaust, passing it through the customised membrane. The system was able to separate more than 90% of CO2 emissions.
“It is a difficult gas to handle, it is highly acidic and unclean. But we have proved that it is possible to handle it using a chemical-resistant membrane module that we have. Norwegian Technical University developed the idea for this membrane composition.”
Damsgaard points out that carbon capture could be an excellent workaround for the IMO 2050 CO2 targets, which require individual vessels to reduce CO2 emissions by around 70%. “We want to be one of the companies involved in this,” he says. “We are now shifting into industrialisation and making it workable in a real-world setting.
“In Norway we have tested about six different systems and in laboratory conditions, they are able to extract CO2, but there is a difference between laboratory and industrialisation. There will be notified bodies which have to tackle the certification.”
Real-world applications abound. “I can’t mention the name of the company, but it has an idea for a suction system that would connect to the ship’s funnel in port,” Damsgaard says. With our technology we can extract the CO2 while in port, make it liquid, and transfer it to another truck that will bring it to the west coast of Norway.”
If the system can be made workable on a large scale, Air Products will have everything it needs to produce systems which can, if not eliminate the CO2 from shipping, at least allow it to be removed from the atmosphere. “There is well-known technology liquefying and transporting the CO2. Somebody must offload it into a closed-loop chain, otherwise it leaks out into the atmosphere and we have gained nothing.”
At time of writing, Air Products is waiting for the government funds to materialise. It will not have to wait long; Norwegian government agencies like Enova are famously active when it comes to funding green projects. As a major oil producer, Norway is likely to be a prime candidate for storage of CO2 as well.
Damsgaard explains: “The idea is to put this on tanker ships, and bring it to the North Sea, then pump it into the seabed where it will stay for millions of years. The oil fields seem to be a very good place to store it.”
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