The program relates to development of chemicals and processes for capturing CO2 from flue gas in gas and coal power plants which is more efficient than current methods. The initial work has focused on improving today's amine solutions to make them more effective solvents.
"We expect to close in on the 35 per cent target before Phase 1 is complete," says Torbjørn Pettersen, SINTEF's project manager in SOLVit.
In plain terms, this means that researchers are in the process of developing an amine solvent that reduces energy needs by 35 per cent compared with a reference level of 4.2 GJ/tonne CO2 when used in a capture facility. During the course of three phases spanning eight years, the final objective is a reduction of 50 per cent.
Seven blends on the table
Aker Clean Carbon is the project owner, while SINTEF Materials and Chemistry heads the research part of the project in close cooperation with NTNU (the Norwegian University of Science and Technology). Energy companies E.ON, Scottish Power and Statkraft are partners in the first phase of the project.
After laboratory testing of more than 50 amine blends, seven blends have been selected for further work. Energy consumption reductions of more than 25 per cent have been documented in experiments carried out in the project's two pilot facilities.
The final stage of Phase 1 uses the process simulation tool CO2SIM, developed by SINTEF and Aker Clean Carbon, to achieve further reductions. This work is currently underway. The tool is used to optimise operation and design of the capture facility.
Advanced pilot facilities
An extremely important part of SOLVit's first phase has been to establish and operate two pilot facilities for CO2 capture. Development of the solvents is largely based on data from the two pilot facilities and CO2SIM.
"The pilot facilities lend important credibility to the research results, as these are very nearly genuine performance studies being carried out here," according to Pettersen.
One of the pilot facilities is located at Tiller near Trondheim, and was designed by SINTEF. The absorption tower is eleven stories tall, the same height as in a full-scale capture facility. The higher the column in the capture facility, the more CO2 can be captured from the flue gas. However, the diameter is considerably smaller than in a full-scale facility.
The second pilot facility is the Mobile Test Unit (MTU), a complete, miniature-scale capture facility built and operated by Aker Clean Carbon, used for real testing on flue gas from gas and coal-fired power plants since 2008.
A lot of operating experience
So far, there are more than 12 000 hours of CO2 capture operating experience between the two facilities. The final emission campaigns in Phase 1 have now been concluded. Seven emission campaigns have been carried out, and four chemical mixtures have been tested in the facilities.
"The lifecycle costs associated with a CO2 capture facility are decisive in market players' relative competitiveness and earnings potential in a medium to long-term perspective," according to Vibeke Andersson from Aker Clean Carbon, project coordinator for the SOLVit program.
"In order to be competitive on these costs, the process design and energy efficiency of the facility will be key. Energy efficiency will largely depend on development of good, effective solvents as input factors in the facility. This conviction forms the basis for the Aker Group's commitment to the ongoing research and development work in SOLVit," she says.
Andersson believes that the support from CLIMIT is essential, and that the funding can trigger realisation of the project.
Senior advisor Svein Gunnar Bekken in Gassnova is satisfied that the project is nearing the 35 per cent goal in Phase 1, particularly given the fact that the project has encountered a number of challenges. One of these is the increasing focus on emissions of substances with potential negative impact on the environment.
"In a research and development project, you can never guarantee that ambitious objectives can be met "on demand". The project's focus has naturally evolved more in the direction of ensuring that no environmentally harmful components are released from the process. This must then be balanced against the goal of the most energy-efficient solution possible," he says.
For CO2 capture and storage to succeed, Bekken believes that reducing total costs is important, while not introducing other undesirable environmental impacts.
"SOLVit has specific focus on these important aspects through post-combustion technology, e.g. reducing operating costs as well as eliminating potential environmental impact caused by amine-based CO2 capture," he says.
Environmental aspect is crucial
Even though it is not among the main goals, the SOLVit researchers will also examine what other products are formed during the capture process, which of them are released, and which of them impact the environment. Better methods of analysing the degradation products will also be developed.
"A lot of knowledge has been generated on this topic in Phase 1. This is important work, we have to keep tabs on all of the emission aspects. I can tell you that the overall scenario is both more complex and more positive than has been portrayed in the media," says Pettersen.
The work continues
The plan is to start the next phase of SOLVit in March. The methodology developed in Phase 1 will be utilised to further develop the chemical blends. The goal is to achieve minimal health and environmental consequences while also emphasising even lower energy consumption. The researchers will further develop and refine methods for measuring emissions, as well as technologies to reduce emissions.
In parallel, work will commence to develop completely new concepts involving more radical process solutions that could have the potential of achieving a 50 per cent reduction in energy consumption.
Project manager SINTEF: Torbjørn Pettersen, SINTEF Materials and Chemistry
Project coordinator and project manager ACC: Vibeke Andersson, Aker Clean Carbon
Partners: ACC, SINTEF, NTNU, E.ON, Scottish Power, Statkraft
Total budget: NOK 317 million
Phase 1 budget: NOK 113 million
CLIMIT support Phase 1: Gassnova NOK 33 million in first phase; Research Council of Norway NOK 26.4 million (all three phases).