Carbon Capture and Utilization – Meeting the Challenges

Carbon Capture and Utilization, along with Carbon Storage, are essential pieces of the energy puzzle in reducing greenhouse gases during this era of fossil fuels and growing energy demands. Even though coal, the most pollutant energy source, is diminishing year by year, the need for energy is growing faster than renewables can keep up with.  Natural gas and crude oil will be required for decades to come, bridging the gap of our energy needs while renewable energy sources are still developing, growing, and scaling.

According to the energy company ENI, over the next 12 years the fossil fuel component of our energy mix will diminish from the current 80% down to 75%. However, due to ever-rising energy demands carbon dioxide release from fossil fuel emissions will grow from 32Gt/year (gigatons) to 35Gt/year during this same time frame.  Hence, carbon capture methods are very important in dealing with these carbon emissions. In this article, we will focus on CCU, or Carbon Capture and Utilization. For an in-depth look at CCS (Carbon Capture and Storage), take a look at this article (link)

What is Carbon Capture and Utilization?

Carbon Capture and Utilization Illustrated, By LeJean Hardin and Jamie Payne, derivative work: Jarl Arntzen, CC BY-SA 3.0

Carbon Capture and Utilization means to capture CO2 emissions from sources such as power plants and industrial processes, and then put it to use in some form.  Other terms for CCU include CCR (Carbon Capture and Reuse) as well as CO2 Utilization. Carbon Capture and Utilization differs from Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) in two main ways.

  • CCU puts the carbon dioxide to temporary use. This carbon will reintroduce itself to the carbon cycle at some point in time.  CCS permanently stores the carbon, eliminating it from the carbon cycle and thus diminishing the overall carbon footprint.
  • CCU finds a useful value for carbon dioxide, making the economic impact of implementation easier to deal with. CCS typically buries the carbon deep underground.  This is an added expense and typically lowers plant efficiency.

The general idea of both CCU and CCS is to reduce or eliminate the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and both methods have a place in the future of energy production.

Carbon Dioxide Uses

Carbon Dioxide has many current uses. Here is a list of CO2 uses, according to the Global CCS Institute:

  • Enhanced Oil Recovery(EOR)
  • Urea Yield Boosting
  • Enhanced Geothermal Systems
  • Polymer Processing
  • Algae Cultivation
  • Carbonate Mineralization
  • CO2 Concrete Curing
  • Bauxite Residue Carbonation
  • CO2 as a Feedstock for Liquid Fuel Production
  • Enhanced Coal Bed Methane.

Even with all these current uses for CO2, the total domestic carbon dioxide usage is only about 2% of the total amount produced from the US power plants, according to an MIT whitepaper. Most of this being used for Enhanced Oil Recovery due to being cheaper to capture and having a strong economic return.  As stated in the whitepaper, “the challenge is to find new and larger uses that will consume the CO2 or otherwise sequester it from the atmosphere.”

There are many hands working toward new uses for CO2. While the Global CCS Institute lists 14 future uses for CO2, about half of them hold the promise of a significant impact on the overall carbon release.  The most promising of these are:

  • Enhanced Coal Bed Methane Recovery (ECBM)
  • Algae Cultivation
  • Mineralization of Calcium Carbonate and Magnesium Carbonate
  • CO2 Concrete Curing
  • Renewable Methanol
  • Formic Acid
  • Genetically Engineered Micro-Organisms for Direct Fuel Secretion

Together, these emerging technologies could add up to a very significant greenhouse gas reduction.  Let’s take a look at one of these promising CO2 uses, Algae Cultivation.

Algae Carbon Capture

Algae carbon capture is one of the most promising of the future CO2 uses.  Plants and the animal kingdom have a symbiotic relationship in the gases utilized and released. Humans and animals breathe in oxygen while exhaling carbon dioxide. Plants use this carbon dioxide and produce oxygen.  Algae is not an exception to this rule.  However, algae is unique in many ways, including its ability to integrate into power plant processes and its many uses after cultivation.

T.B Simon Power Plant In Cogeneration Trial, By Paul R. Burley, CC BY-SA 4.0

According to Power Magazine, the California-based algal firm PHYCO2, has patented a bioreactor that is under a multi-year trial at the T.B. Simon co-generation power plant. During its first two-month period, it had an absorption rate of 52% of the carbon dioxide. As methods are refined, this absorption rate is expected to improve.  Power magazine sites that this pure algae strand “can be used in everyday products, from lipstick to ice cream and gasoline to animal feed”.

As noted above, algae hold the promise of being an excellent bio-energy fuel source.  Unlike corn ethanol that consumes huge landmasses, pond production and power plant production of algae do not take up valuable agricultural space and yields 2x to 10x the fuel volume as does corn ethanol.

We at Hanging H applaud all the research and development going into Carbon Capture and Utilization and support efforts to make our planet greener and energy cleaner. We are excited to see what the future will hold in the way of cleaner fuels, and we are proud to play our part in the delivery of these fuels as a national liquid and gas pipeline construction company.

September 14, 2018

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