By Lara Heberle, Global Technology Development Manager for CCUS at Pall Corporation
Combining the use of bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) is fast becoming a fundamental part of the global green transition. Its growing status as an indispensable tool in combating climate change has been confirmed by institutions such as the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and reaffirmed by international policy direction.
The European Commission’s latest plans for reducing emissions include proposals to create an EU-wide ‘industrial carbon management’ framework, noting that support will be needed to accelerate BECCS and reduce costs. It also wants carbon removal technologies to be integrated into the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). In the UK, the Government has approved the conversion of two biomass units into BECCS facilities at Drax, the country’s largest power station. This follows the release of the national biomass strategy, showing that expansion of bioenergy and carbon capture technologies are crucial to the decarbonisation of the UK’s power system by 2035.
Economic incentives and investments in projects are underway in other countries. In the US, tax credits via the Inflation Reduction Act encourage storage of CO2 and public funding will support the development of one of the world’s largest carbon capture facilities in Texas.
Syncing carbon capture and storage with bioenergy production
The IEA has forecast that global carbon removal via BECCS will reach just under 50 Mt of carbon dioxide a year by 2030 – falling short of the 190 Mt CO2/year needed to be removed under its Net Zero Emissions by 2050 (NZE) Scenario. To enable the technology to achieve its potential, it must be scaled up around the world; however there are several challenges in aligning biomass plants with the capture, processing and storage of carbon.
These are big strategic ventures requiring high investment and getting a permit for underground sequestration can be lengthy – sometimes taking up to six years. To make these projects attractive to investors, it is essential that regulators explore options for speeding up permit-granting processes.
Biomass power plants require a lot of land to produce energy and many are located in areas that are not geologically suitable for underground carbon storage. This means that significant infrastructure, including large-scale pipelines, is required to transport captured carbon from industrial sites to storage facilities. This can create a catch-22 scenario with companies hesitant to build and operate pipelines until there are potential customers, while customers may be reluctant to explore carbon capture and storage if there is no way of getting their emissions from their site to a storage facility.
Contamination: the scourge of carbon capture technology
Currently, approximately two million tonnes of carbon dioxide are captured from biogenic sources globally with around 90% captured in bioethanol facilities. This is largely due to the high concentration of carbon dioxide in the gas stream at bioethanol facilities, which makes it easier and cheaper to capture.
Removing carbon dioxide from bioenergy power plants, however, is a more complex process. Flue gas streams from BECCS plants contain a lower concentration of carbon dioxide as they also contain contaminants such as sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, oxygen and water. These impurities need to be removed as they can cause operational issues, a reduction in carbon capture efficiency, critical equipment damage, unscheduled downtime and increased maintenance costs.
In the CCS process, CO2 must be compressed to reduce its volume for efficient transportation and processing. As compressors are highly sensitive to contaminants which can quickly cause corrosion and lower yields, it is vital to support them with the right technology. High efficiency liquid/gas coalescers, for example, can be used to boost compressor operation and reliability by removing carry-over liquids (oil that seeps past the separator filter into the discharge piping), water in small aerosols (condensation and/or seal protection) and particulate matter (a mixture of solid and liquid droplets).
If the CO2 is not purified to target specifications when being transported for storage in geological reservoirs, it can cause pipelines to be corroded or even blocked and can foul reservoirs and damage injection pumps. Proactive contaminant removal can therefore provide a good return on investment.
Absorptive carbon capture
As BECCS projects continue to accelerate, filtration and separation technology will play a critical role across the carbon capture and storage value chain. This particularly applies to absorptive (solvent-based) carbon capture, which is currently the most commonly used method. This is primarily because it is more economical and at a more mature stage of development than other methods such as cryogenics and chemical looping.
High efficiency absolute-rated particulate removal filters can protect solvents and prevent build-up of solid contaminants, reduce foaming, lower aerosol emissions, and limit fouling of equipment such as absorber parts and heat exchangers.
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Co-operation will open the gates to BECCS expansion
Increasing BECCS deployment is pivotal to the global green transition. As well as being the only CO2 removal technique that can provide energy, it plays a huge role in balancing out residual emissions in heavy industries such as aviation and trucking. Effective expansion, however, will involve carefully navigating a number of potential pitfalls. Ensuring that biomass is sourced sustainably, improving CCS infrastructure and keeping track of the technology’s environmental impact across its entire life cycle will be vital in shaping the success of BECCS programmes.
More investment in CCS technology to support BECCS facilities is also crucial, with filtration and separation applications playing a critical role in maintaining high carbon capture efficiency and reliable equipment operation, as well as meeting safety regulations.
Ultimately, the effective and sustainable scaling up of BECCS technology will depend on strong collaboration between biomass producers, private investors, technology suppliers and governments.