How quickly could carbon capture technology solve industry CO₂ shortages?
By Peter Styring, Professor of Chemical Engineering and Chemistry, University of Sheffield
Sheffield (UK), September 26 (The Conversation) The recent surge in natural gas prices has shut down many fertilizer factories in the UK, sending shock waves through many other industries.
This is because ammonia-based fertilizers are made from nitrogen and hydrogen, and the latter comes from the breakdown of natural gas – a process that releases carbon dioxide as a by-product. It is this CO₂ which is then captured and used in various industries, from the gasification of soft drinks to the euthanasia of livestock. In its solid form, known as cardice, CO₂ can even be used to transport and store temperature-sensitive pharmaceuticals, including the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.
CO₂ scarcity has wreaked havoc in UK supply chains, threatening shortages of meat, alcohol and soft drinks. While the government has paid to reopen a fertilizer plant, companies that buy CO₂ will have to pay five times more than usual.
Carbon capture technology
The problem is that the CO₂ used in industry comes from well-established sources in a complex supply chain. This CO₂ generated in the fertilizer manufacturing process is relatively inexpensive and easy to separate. If this system fails, there is no ready alternative. Meanwhile, CO₂ concentrations in the atmosphere are approximately 420 ppm – 0.0042% of all gases. Separating CO₂ from the air is difficult and much more expensive.
What is known as “point-source carbon capture technology” is currently the best alternative option and involves purifying CO₂ from exhaust gases in the chimneys of factories and power stations. Here, CO₂ is emitted in the highest volumes and the concentrations are thousands of times higher than those found in the atmosphere.
Technologies capable of capturing carbon from power plant stacks or even directly from the air are being developed, but are not available on the scale needed. Two UK-based competitions to boost innovation in carbon capture and storage technologies have been launched and closed by successive governments since 2005, the last one ending in 2015 without much success.
However, some initiatives have emerged, including the Acorn project in St Fergus, Scotland, which separates CO₂ from natural gas – which is used to make hydrogen – and injects it under the North Sea. The Drax C-Capture project, meanwhile, extracts CO₂ from the emissions of a biomass power plant in North Yorkshire, England. This project, it is claimed, aims to be carbon neutral in the long term by transporting the CO₂ by pipeline to an offshore storage site.
It usually takes ten years of research and engineering before a new carbon capture technology can be deployed on the scale needed. Industries that use CO₂ must plan for new carbon capture technology that will be available many years into the future, rather than waiting for immediate solutions.
And the carbon capture units currently operating in select locations around the world, such as the Boundary Dam coal-fired power plant in Canada, are unlikely to provide the solution CO₂ supply industries need. This is because they use liquids to absorb and purify the high temperature greenhouse gas, which produces over 99% pure CO₂, but requires a lot of energy and is therefore expensive. Liquid adsorbents also decompose at high temperatures, leaving toxic byproducts.
Solid adsorbents, such as those made from silica or cellulose powders, are much more stable. Some newer systems use solid absorbers and high pressures rather than high temperatures to adsorb CO₂. These are probably the cheapest to operate and the least damaging to the environment, making them a good choice for industries that want to source sustainable CO₂. There are plans to install a pressure capture facility at the Tata Steel plant in South Wales which will capture waste CO₂ and convert it into transport fuels.
Prevent future shortages
Over the next 30 years, industries will also have to consider direct air capture – a technology capable of extracting greenhouse gases from the air – as a source of CO₂, but this will come at a cost to the consumer. consumer. Products made in processes requiring CO₂, such as soft drinks and fresh and packaged foods, will have to pass on these cost increases.
The captured CO₂ must be stored in industrial reserves – steel tanks on the same site as the power plant from which the CO₂ originates or the plant where it could be used, and not underground. Industrial reserves must be easily accessible as a back-up supply.
Since all of these technologies are far from widely deployed, the company runs the risk of regular shortages without monitoring committees, similar to the COVID-19 task force, which can provide workable scenarios as soon as a problem arises, rather only days or weeks after potential supply crises.
It may seem surprising to read that CO₂ – the greenhouse gas that heats our world – also keeps some essential industries running. How can there be a shortage of something we are desperately trying to issue less? Couldn’t we just take it out of the atmosphere and pump it to factories where it could be used? (The Conversation) NSA
Disclaimer: – This story has not been edited by Outlook staff and is auto-generated from news agency feeds. Source: PTI