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Interview

'Bite-Sized' CO2 Capture Advances With Massive Cost Cuts

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Carbon capture is slated to play a critical role in decarbonization across the board, particularly for high-emitting but hard-to-abate sectors like cement, steelmaking and power generation. But traditional capture technology does not offer easy answers to the challenges that make those sectors so hard to decarbonize, namely the high costs, complexity and time associated with installing capture equipment at these industrial facilities. That's a challenge that Carbon Clean, an emerging London-based technology provider, is taking head-on.

Carbon Clean manufactures and sells what CEO Aniruddha Sharma describes as “fully scalable, modular, replicable carbon capture inside a shipping container.” The units come in 10-, 100- and 300-ton-per-day modules that can be combined and scaled easily, and hooked up usually within six months of placing an order — far quicker than the multiple years it can take to install conventional capture equipment. “We need something radically different, something breakthrough that will completely upend what's happening in the carbon capture industry,” Sharma tells Energy Intelligence.

Major Buy-In

The need for a radical breakthrough in CO2 capture is a story many energy stalwarts have bought into. In May, Carbon Clean closed a $150 million Series C funding round, which it says is the largest equity funding round to date for a point-source carbon capture company. US supermajor Chevron — Carbon Clean’s largest investor — led the Series C round, which also attracted investments from titans such as Saudi Aramco, TC Energy, Samsung and Marubeni. “We see potential deployment opportunities at our own facilities, and also for other emitters in a variety of hard-to-abate industrial sectors,” a Chevron spokesman says. Chevron is also a key investor in another player in the modular carbon-capture space, Canada-based Svante, which counts oil sands producers Suncor Energy and Cenovus Energy among its other investors.

Carbon Clean’s technology has already been applied in more than four dozen projects globally, Sharma says. Most of those deployments involve the company’s core capture technology, which it calls CDRMax. This process is based on a proprietary solvent that the company says can pull CO2 from flue gases at concentrations between 3% and 25% by volume, and produce CO2 with purities greater than 99%. The solvent can save 20%-30% of the costs of a traditional amine-based capture process, Sharma says, equating to a capture cost of just $40/ton of CO2.

Like Spinning Plates

But it is Carbon Clean’s latest solution, dubbed CycloneCC, that Sharma believes will mark a step change for the sector — a “completely revolutionary way of capturing carbon dioxide,” he says. The key innovation is a one-meter-diameter disc housing a “rotating packed bed” that is about one-tenth the size of a “static” carbon capture tower. Conventional carbon capture applications typically require columns 35 to 40 meters tall, into which amine chemicals and flue gas are injected to cause a reaction that strips out the CO2.

“What we do in our [CycloneCC] technology is we actually put the whole thing inside a rotating atmosphere, so the flue gas and the chemical [solvent] are still reacting but they’re reacting inside a rotating medium, and [that] improves the overall surface area contact,” Sharma explains. The disc rotates at "nine times the acceleration of gravity," which pushes the solvent from the center to the outer edge where the flue gas is injected, moving in a "counter-current fashion" and creating a chemical reaction that "captures the CO2 quite quickly," he says.

Carbon Clean expects CycloneCC to result in capture prices of around $30/ton by 2025 — if manufacturing scales up as planned. The company intends to build at least one “gigafactory” able to churn out about 100 units a year, which could supply some 3 million tons/yr of CO2 capture capacity, Sharma says. “We’ve commissioned some pretty detailed work in the US to figure out how the supply chain would come together,” he notes.

'Bite-Sized Pieces'

The overall footprint of CycloneCC, including the “mass transfer” unit and all the ancillary equipment, is less than half the size of other point-source carbon capture solutions. The smaller size is especially important for industrial sites, where land is often scarce and expensive. Cement and steel plants also typically operate at small margins, Sharma says, which makes it hard to justify investments in carbon-capture “mega projects.”

Part of the attraction of CycloneCC, he says, is that it allows emitters to incrementally add capture capacity and increase over time, rather than having to take on so much risk at once. “We are enabling industrial decarbonization by cutting this down into small, chewable, bite-sized pieces,” he says.

Pilot Projects

Carbon Clean has announced two commercial pilot projects that the company hopes will pave the way for future scaling. Cement producer Cemex, another Carbon Clean investor, plans to deploy CycloneCC at a cement plant in Germany to initially capture 100 tons/d of CO2, which would be repurposed into “green” synthetic hydrocarbons. Sharma says this project could eventually be scaled up to capture 2,000 tons/d of CO2. In California, Carbon Clean is working with Chevron to install a CycloneCC unit at a steam and electricity cogeneration plant for a demonstration pilot in the San Joaquin Valley. The intent "is to learn how to best reduce capture costs so we can scale and deploy this technology on a larger scale,” Chevron said.

Carbon capture capacity today stands at just over 40 million tons/yr, a small fraction of the 1.6 billion tons the International Energy Agency says needs to be captured annually by 2030 if the world has a chance of reaching net zero emissions by 2050. Sharma says Carbon Clean is giving some of the heaviest emitting sectors a simple path to begin what is certain to be a long journey. “We're solving the biggest problem of industrial carbon capture, which is adoption,” he says.

Topics:
Carbon Capture (CCS), Emerging Technologies, CO2 Emissions
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