Last updateThu, 20 Sep 2018 3pm


Carbon Capture and Storage: Why and How?

Carbon (CO2) capture and storage (CCS) is a series of processes targeted at reducing CO2 emissions from industrial processes, thereby preventing large amounts of CO2 from being released into the atmosphere. The CCS chain in recent years has been expanded to carbon capture utilization and storage (CCUS). This has given large industry emitters the benefit of possible utilization of CO2 to positively influence their cash flow.

Some of the large industrial sources of CO2 emission are highlighted below and include crude oil production and refining, natural gas production and processing, combustion process plants like power plants, and manufacturing industries including, but not limited to, iron and steel production, aluminium production, chemical industry stone and clay industry (which includes cement and the pulp and paper industry). CO2 emissions can come from both their process/technology unit and heat generation units.

Available CO2 Capture Technologies

Regardless of the source, CO2 capture can be achieved through several technologies like absorption, adsorption, membrane, cryogenic and biological processes.

In the absorption process, CO2 capture can be achieved by either using physical solvents or reactive organic chemical solvents (amine solvents). Physical solvents absorb CO2 through physical affinity with CO2. Commercial physical solvents include dimethylethers of polyethylene glycol (Selexol), propylene carbonate (Fluor solvent), cold methanol (Rectisol) and N-methyl-2-pyrolidone (Purisol).

However, CO2 capture using reactive chemicals, known as amine solvents, is the most mature and applied technology when compared to other technologies (adsorption, membrane, cryogenic and biological processes). This is because it is capable of more than 90% CO2 capture from a low- and high-pressure feed gas and produces high purity CO2 (≥ 98%).

Amine solvents absorb CO2 by chemically interacting with CO2 to form ionic species. This chemical reaction also takes place when other acid gases are present in the feed gas like carbonyl sulphide (COS), carbon disulphide (CS2), hydrogen sulphide (H2S), sulphur dioxide (SO2) and sulphur trioxide (SO3), nitric oxide (NO) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2).

Typical process flow configuration of CO2 capture using chemical solventsFigure 1. Typical process flow configuration of CO2 capture using chemical solvents

From Figure 1, which shows the process flow diagram of a typical CO2 capture plant, note that the feed gas containing CO2 (25 oC to 60 oC) from an upstream process unit is fed to the absorber (contactor) bottom at the desired flow rate. The feed gas can be a high-pressure gas (natural gas, liquefied petroleum gas, etc.) or flue gas (combustion and/or non-combustion sources) that comes at atmospheric pressure. Though the flow rate of the feed gas is mostly constant, operational challenges, such as foaming, can prompt the CO2 capture plant to run at reduced gas production rate. In such a scenario, a valve installed on the feed gas line will serve the purpose of controlling the gas flow rate.

As the feed gas flows upward through the absorption column it counter-currently meets the CO2-lean amine solution flowing downwards from the top. The absorption column is fitted with either trays (sieve tray, valve tray, etc.) or packings (random packings, structured packings) that provide the effective contact area for the amine solution and the feed gas. Mass transfer takes place and CO2 in the gas phase is absorbed by the amine solution by chemical reaction forming ionic species like carbamate (AmineCOO–) and/or bicarbonate (HCO3–), etc.

The CO2-lean gas leaving the top of the absorber is condensed to recover any amine or water (H2O) carryover. The recovered liquid is refluxed back to the absorber top (slightly above the CO2-lean amine entrance tray or packing) and a control valve controls the flow rate and liquid level in the absorber overhead separator.

For high-pressure-gas stream (natural gas, liquefied petroleum gas etc.), the treated gas is sent to downstream gas dehydration unit. On the contrary, for feed gas at slightly above atmospheric pressure (flue gas, etc.), the treated gas is flared.

The amine solution saturated with CO2 (CO2-rich amine solution) exits from the bottom of the absorber. A control valve located at the bottom exit of the absorber (Figure 1) controls the flow rate of the CO2-rich amine solution entering the flash drum or cross-exchanger. This control valve also maintains the liquid level in the absorber bottom (liquid sump).

For high-pressure feed gas, the CO2-rich amine solution is routed to the flash drum to reduce the pressure of the amine solution prior to entering the cross-exchanger. At the bottom exit of the flash drum, a control valve is installed to control the flow rate of the amine solution entering the cross-exchanger and to control the liquid level in the flash drum. The flash drum also helps to remove any absorbed hydrocarbons, thereby preventing them from entering the high-temperature stripper.

The flash gas produced from the flash drum is mostly used as supplementary fuel for the process heater. For low-pressure feed gas, the CO2-rich amine solution is sent directly to the cross-exchanger with a pump providing the required pressure to pass through the exchanger and to the stripper. The cross-exchanger is the heart of heat integration in CO2 capture plant because the CO2-rich amine solution exchanges heat with the hot CO2-lean amine solution from the bottom of the reboiler.

For a high-pressure system, the valve installed at the exit of the cross-exchanger not only controls flow rate but also reduces the pressure of the CO2-rich amine solution to the desorber pressure.

The stripper operates at high temperature (110 oC to 130 oC) to reverse the products of the chemical reaction in the absorber, hence recover the amine solution for reuse. The vapor phase (mostly CO2 and H2O and some amine solvents) leaving the top of the stripper is condensed to recover all the condensable components. The control valve located at the bottom of the stripper overhead separator controls both the level in the separator (to avoid overflow) and the flow rate of the reflux entering the stripper. The CO2 from the top exit of the separator is compressed and dried for either storage in depleted reservoirs or for enhanced oil and gas recovery.

The reboiler at the bottom of the stripper is where the amine solution is heated to strip the absorbed CO2, while the vaporized phase (mostly CO2 and H2O with some amine solvents) is sent back to the stripper. The heating is usually provided by steam supply (low- or medium-pressure steam) or proprietary heating fluids, and their choice will depend on availability and cost. The flow rate and liquid level of the stripper and reboiler are controlled by control valves located at their bottom exit location.

The hot CO2-lean amine solution is recycled to the absorber for CO2 absorption, however, amine is added (amine make-up) to maintain the design amine concentration for CO2 absorption. The flow rate of the CO2-lean amine solution is controlled by a control valve prior to being cooled to the required absorption temperature.

In order to maintain the performance of the control valves and to extend operating (service) life in CO2 capture plants, proper valve design, selection, installation, operation, inspection and maintenance is essential.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. is a researcher at the Clean Energy Technologies Research Institute (CETRI), University of Regina in Regina, Saskatchewan.

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