If the world is to meet the Paris Agreement and all energy-related sustainable development goals, roughly 2,000 carbon capture and storage (CCS) facilities need to be operating by 2040, delivering 7% of cumulative emissions reductions.
That’s according to the International Energy Agency (IEA) who puts the price of a scenario without CCS at more than double the cost.
The CCS process involves three major steps: capturing CO2 at the source, compressing it for transportation and then injecting it deep into a rock formation at a carefully selected and safe site, where it is permanently stored.
But despite its global recognition as a vital technology in the climate change battle, market uptake for CCS has been slow: there are only 51 large-scale CCS facilities globally – 19 in operation, four under construction and 28 in various stages of development.
“CCS technology comes with a price tag and some solvents currently on the market are not particularly environmentally friendly,” explained Tom White, CEO of CO2 removal specialist C-Capture.
This is where C-Capture fits into the CCS picture: the UK company has developed a unique, solvent-based technology which can be deployed on most industrial processes requiring CO2 separation from other gases, including power stations, industrial plants, hydrogen production facilities and bio or natural gas upgrading plants.
The technology uses a new class of capture solvents that are not classified as hazardous, are inexpensive and can be manufactured on a large scale from biological sources.
“C-Capture’s technology offers many advantages, including reduced emissions, low environmental impact, low corrosivity, but ultimately it offers significant savings in both capital and operational expenditure. This should reduce the barriers to deployment,” White told gasworld.
“Supporting infrastructure for CO2 transport and storage is not yet in place, though a lot of hard work is going on to develop projects, business models and roadmaps around the model of industrial clusters in the UK, where shared T&S infrastructure will be implemented.
“The recent UK Government commitment of £800m to get at least two industrial clusters operational by 2040 demonstrates the commitment and enthusiasm behind decarbonisation of our industrial areas.
“Clearly a CO2 utilisation technology at a matching scale that results in a solid product would be a game changer.”
Here in an exclusive interview, White (pictured below, centre) talks in detail about C-Capture’s gamechanging technology, the company’s involvement in Europe’s first bioenergy carbon capture and storage (BECCS) pilot and what support is needed to accelerate commercial deployment of CCS.
Tom, thanks for your time. For any of our readers who may be unfamiliar with C-Capture, could you tell us a little about the company?
C-Capture was founded in 2009 as a spin-out company from the School of Chemistry at the University of Leeds.
It was established with support from IP Group to develop work from Prof. Chis Rayner’s research group at Leeds, where they had been building upon his nearly 20 years’ experience working with CO2 to find new solutions to the carbon capture problem.
In late 2011, we appointed experienced chemist Douglas Barnes and process engineer Caspar Schoolderman who worked together to develop our first-generation technology up to pre-pilot scale.
Independent validation of the technology demonstrated it to be as good the then state-of-the-art in terms of energy penalty. This close collaboration between chemists and engineers has been a defining strength and feature of the company from the very beginning.
IP Group is a shareholder in our company, alongside BP Ventures and Drax Group. We have also received grant support from the UK Government to support the development and commercialisation of our technology.
Let’s talk about C-Capture’s technology. Where did the idea for it come from?
Our initial research was focussed on a combination of an amine and non-amine component and provided both a benchmark for future developments and the experience to bring new ideas to fruition. However, we were also aware that many of the limitations of existing amine-based technologies, including our own, were inherent to all such systems.
We knew we needed something completely different for a truly next generation of technology. It was whilst exploring some intuitions during one of our so-called ‘Friday afternoon experiments’ that Douglas Barnes, who is now our Head of Chemistry, discovered the basis of our unique solvent chemistry. We quickly realised it was something incredibly special.
The experience we’d gained and the suite of equipment we had put together developing the first solvent allowed us to rapidly optimise the new solvent concept and demonstrate it up to pre-pilot scale.
Could you simply explain how the technology works?
C-Capture’s new proprietary solvent captures CO2 from an industrial waste gas by ‘washing’ it in an absorber column. The solvent is then heated in a stripper column to release the captured CO2 gas for compression and export, before being recycled to the absorber column again.
Our process offers a safer and less expensive alternative to current technologies based on the use of amines. It provides a means to make the removal of CO2 significantly more economical from a range of large-scale processes, such as power generation from coal, gas and biomass, and the production of cement, steel, and aluminium.
”These differences are significant enough for C-Capture’s groundbreaking technology to be considered disruptive and is particularly attractive to both end-users and investors…”
How is C-Capture’s technology different to others on the market?
C-Capture’s technology has been specifically developed as an alternative to amine-based systems, which are the main commercial offerings at present.
We believe our technology is sufficiently differentiated that it will provide customers with an attractive alternative, with reduced CAPEX, OPEX and environmental risks due to the fundamentally different nature of the technology.
What role will it play in tackling climate change?
The fundamentally different chemical processes operating in our process means it represents a true step change in performance, requiring between 1.5-2 GJ/tonne CO2 captured, compared to >2.5 GJ/tonne CO2 for the best of the amine-based systems.
These differences are significant enough for C-Capture’s groundbreaking technology to be considered disruptive and is particularly attractive to both end-users and investors. Given sufficient support in funding to enable scale up, C-Capture’s technology has the potential to become the dominant technology with reduced cost and reduced environmental impact and will enable the CCS market to expand more rapidly.
What support is needed for the CCS industry as a whole to accelerate commercial deployment?
- Certainty of when a viable large industrial scale (e.g. 10,000 tonnes per day) CO2 transport and storage infrastructure will be in place.
- Viable technologies to utilise CO2 captured at small scale (e.g. 100 tonnes per day) outside of clusters.
- Policy and regulatory certainty to de-risk the investment decisions required to enable capital flight from carbon intensive industries to carbon negative ones.
- Government funding for demonstration units in price sensitive industries
How is C-Capture involved with the BECCS pilot project at Drax’s power plant? How are things progressing?
C-Capture has had a pilot plant installed within Drax Group’s CCUS Incubation Area at Drax Power Station, North Yorkshire, UK since February 2019, and currently leads a collaborative project funded by the UK Government’s Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, to scale up its technology.
Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) has the potential to generate negative emissions electricity. This approach will be crucial to reach net zero targets.
When scaled up, bioenergy with carbon capture and storage technology at Drax could capture up to 16 million tonnes CO2 a year. This would make a huge contribution to the UK’s goal of achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
We have recently installed an enhanced experimental absorber which tests a new concept and allows more flexibility and accessibility in the system. This important experimental rig – Europe’s first BECCS pilot – continues to help us to understand how to optimise our technology at the commercial scale.
C-Capture is proud of the potential its technology offers to mitigate climate change as part of the growing market for environmentally conscious power generation and industrial processes. With ongoing support, we will be able to deploy this technology across multiple industries and help deliver the carbon emissions cuts so desperately required.
What are the next steps for this project?
As with all engineering projects at this scale, a pre-FEED and FEED study must be carried out, before any engineering design and construction takes place.
Drax aims to be using CCS Technology on two of its four biomass generating units by 2030.
We are currently at the very exciting stage of exploring commercial opportunities in other market areas. The markets in which carbon capture technology can be deployed include waste-to-energy or fuel, biogas upgrading, natural gas sweetening, cement, steel, glass manufacture, hydrogen production. We are currently interested in deploying our technology in one or more of these markets, working with the right industry partners.
What else does C-Capture have planned for the near future?
- Scaling up the technology from 1 tpd to 10,000 tpd at Drax
- An intermediate project at 100 tpd
- Internal funding round this year, external funding round next year.
- Working with industry partners to explore funding opportunities for projects and utilisation options
- Demonstrating solvent compatibility with flue gases from different industrial sources
- Expanding the team
- Worldwide presence