One month on from the European CO2 supply shortage that sent shockwaves through food and beverage markets and the mainstream press alike, and much of the frenzy surrounding this supply chain crisis has long since dissipated.

Though many of the plant outages that led to the shortage are now back on-stream, gasworld understands the market for carbon dioxide (CO2) in Europe remains tight, with little surplus product available and marginal flex in the system for the time being.

The crisis is over, for now at least, but this summer’s shortage of product has left questions hanging over the supply chain, not least about the potential for alternative means of supply.

CO2 recovery has been one of the technologies mooted, especially given the layman’s association with CO2 as a greenhouse gas and, therefore, the assumption that it must be omnipresent in the atmosphere and readily available to be used.

Whilst this isn’t strictly true, the level of CO2 in the atmosphere can actually be pegged at just 500 parts-per-million (ppm) or less than 0.05%, a relatively nascent CO2 recovery does exist.

CO2 shortage: Lessons learned

CO2 recovery and purification technology has been in development for decades, and in more recent years has made great leaps forward as society and industry become more green-minded and conscious of recycling resources, as well as profiting from them. Yet we are still scratching the surface in this area and what the technology might be capable of, with evolution expected in terms of cost and capacity.

There is also scope to expand the application of these technologies; when talking of CO2 capture/recovery, most would think of classic by-product recovery from ammonia or fermentation processes. But there are an array of applications involving anaerobic digestion (AD) that could be future hotspots for CO2 recovery such as biogas plants or waste incineration. These could not only reduce the carbon footprint of those sectors, but also generate significant sources of CO2.

Developing countries and emerging markets might be seen as more logical regions for these technologies, as industry and infrastructure is still in development and it makes sense to adopt such future-proofing solutions from inception. It would arguably be negligent to rely on supply from external CO2 suppliers.

In an advanced region like Europe, however, a still-lucrative and beneficial market may exist – especially in the face of an at times tightening supply chain. The key is to identify opportunities for end-users to take advantage of their own CO2 recovery onsite, even from high-purity sources like biogas plants or waste-to-energy facilities that in most cases are not yet maximising this potential.

A case in point

One company that is working with customers to identify their opportunities and take advantage of them is Tecno Project Industriale (TPI).

Established in 1987 and nestled around 50km northeast of Milan in Bergamo, Italy, TPI has established itself as an Italian trailblazer in CO2 recovery plants. With last month’s CO2 shortage whirlwind still fresh in the memory, the company shared a new case study with gasworld which will explore large-scale carbon capture and utilisation in the Netherlands.

AVR is a Dutch company specialising in the regeneration of energy from renewable sources, operating a waste-to-energy plant for the treatment of urban solid waste in Duiven, Arnhem. Aware of the potential that its operations might have in terms of generating a useful resource, the company recently chose TPI to be its international partner for the sale of gas and technological solutions in the sector – and implement a large-scale carbon capture project to recover CO2 from the flue gases emitted by its waste-to-energy plant.

Under the contract, which commenced earlier this year, TPI will install a facility for CO2 recovery using selective solvents, which will convert waste gas generated by the combustion of refuse (waste) into a useful resource. It will be captured, purified and liquefied. This will make a significant contribution to reducing greenhouse gases emissions generated by the incinerator, which are harmful to the atmosphere.

It will also provide CO2 to the local market. Carbon dioxide obtained from stripping, compression and liquefaction processes will be stored in special tanks and transported (primarily) to local farms to be integrated into the process of chlorophyll photosynthesis in greenhouses, thereby allowing end-users to benefit from an eco-friendly and ready-to-use resource. A Tier One industrial gas player has recently revealed that it had signed a long-term contract with AVR to provide the necessary distribution and storage equipment to deliver the liquid CO2 to end-users.

Air Liquide signs agreement with AVR

greenhouse grade co2

With more than 10,000 hectares of greenhouse agriculture, the Netherlands has the largest cultivated greenhouse area in the world and demand for liquefied CO2 for greenhouse agriculture has been growing in the context of lower energy consumption commitment from the industry.

The customised recovery facility in Duiven is expected to enter operation in the summer of 2019, with TPI responsible for fulfilling the entire project from feasibility study through to construction, installation and start-up.

It will also be unprecedented in Europe in terms of its size and innovation, representing a major challenge in a new application sector for TPI, which has so far concentrated its business on more standardised systems in the food and beverage sector.

tpi-biogas-upgrading-2018

Source: Tecno Project Industriale (TPI)

Biogas boom

This is just one case in point, with so many others surely on the agenda and TPI also actively exploring the potential of CO2 recovery in biogas upgrading operations.

Biogas produced through conventional anaerobic digestion usually consists of around 55% methane and 45% CO2, of which all of the latter and some of the former is expelled into the air. TPI’s specialised recovery system allows operators to capture and recover the CO2 from the biogas stream, and the company is increasingly turning its attentions to the potential in this sector.

Revolutionary CO2 recovery: An interview with TPI (2016)

TPI’s plants use polymeric membranes with a high selectivity for biogas refining – an innovative but reliable solution which has already been tested on an industrial scale. In order to capture the CO2, TPI’s biogas upgrading plants can be equipped with a CO2 recovery section, capturing CO2 with an efficiency of 99%. The unit consists of a compression stage, a drying and purification step, a refrigeration and liquefaction section, and a cryogenic tank for liquid CO2 storage, prior to its use across a range of industrial fields.