Professionals and researchers around the world are investigating carbon capture technologies so we can reduce our global carbon footprint to curb accelerating climate change. So far, 197 countries have endorsed the Paris Agreement, by which they agree to cut their GHG emissions to keep the world from getting 2°C warmer by 2100.
Currently, there is enough accumulated CO2 into the atmosphere that has been building up since the Industrial Revolution to prevent the Earth from cooling off even if the world stops emitting GHGs immediately.
According to Jane Zelikova, a climate scientist at the University of Wyoming, the world needs to remove 10 gigatons per year by 2050 and 20 gigatons after that by the end of the century in order to limit global warming to 2°C.
For that reason, new technologies capable of providing a solution for CO2 removal and storage are constantly a matter of research and development for science communities. Negative emissions solutions like carbon capture and storage or carbon capture utilization and storage CCUS are becoming important and the following universities are contributing with research for a sustainable future.
Each university’s carbon research group focuses on variable parts of the process of capturing carbon from smokestacks or developing new marketable products that can extract CO2 from the atmosphere and use it in a valuable way.
University of Aberdeen CCU Research – Carbon Capture Machine
The University of Aberdeen hosts a renowned research in the field of carbon capture and utilization. Experts from the university are developing processes and products that can add economic value while also sequestering emissions.
They have developed a patented technology for CO2 capture and conversion that in 2017 led to the spinout from the university of a company called Carbon Capture Machine Ltd (CCM). The company also became a finalist of the NRG COSIA Carbon XPrize with a prize for the winner of $20 million.
The technology that CCM has been developing and commercializing through the competition dissolves CO2 flue gas into slightly alkaline water. The water is mixed with a suitable brine source containing dissolved Ca and Mg ions.
The process produces CaCO3 (Precipitated Calcium Carbonate, PCC) and MgCO3·3H2O (Precipitated Magnesium Carbonate, PMC) that are nearly insoluble and could be used in established industries.
PCCs are utilized in paper making, plastics, paints, adhesives, and in cement and concrete production which is still under development. NaCl (sodium chloride) is also extracted from the final products.
The CO2 conversion products are carbon negative and are also in high demand in several industries. The carbon capture and utilization technology could, therefore, be applied by companies for reducing emissions and new revenue streams.
Imperial College London – CCS Research Program
Imperial College CCS research program involves over 30 professionals in the related field, developing collaborations and projects across departments. The university has the UK’s largest carbon capture and sequestration research program.
The researchers are focused on engineering and industrial CCS, subsurface CO2 behaviour and they are also involved in legal and regulatory research. They are also part of the UK CCS Research Centre, the EU collaborative programs – CO2 GeoNet and the European Energy Research Alliance.
Imperial’s CO2 sequestration research has refurbished a pilot carbon capture plant aiming to provide a hands-on experience for students and professionals. It is built to the industry’s highest standards to capture the flue gas from a power station and serves leading industrial organizations for research purposes.
MIT CCUS Center
One of the top universities in the world – MIT, formed a hub in 2006 for energy research, education, and outreach that aims to accelerate the response for climate change mitigation, called MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI). Its mission is to develop low carbon solutions for halting global warming.
MITEI has supported hundreds of research projects, including its vital program called the Low-Carbon Energy Centers. The centers are a component of MITEI and comprise research areas for advanced development of key energy technology sectors.
One of those sectors is carbon capture and storage. MIT’s carbon capture program is called the CCUS Center and unites faculty members that focus on three areas of research: capture, utilization, and geologic storage.
The technology researchers examine are molecular simulation, materials design, catalytic processes, fluid mechanics, seismic, geodetic, and electromagnetic imaging, and systems analysis. The MIT professionals are working on emerging technology for gas storage and separation. They also want to create new methods that will afford the synthesis and deposition of MOF (metal-organic framework) thin films for CO2 separation from gas mixtures.
The geologic storage research includes investigating how CO2 reacts with the pore fluids, imaging increasingly complicated geological environments to understand the opportunities and risks of underground carbon storage, etc.
Arizona State University – The Center For Negative Carbon Emissions
The Center For Negative Carbon Emissions of the Arizona State University is advancing direct air capture technologies that are critical in the carbon negative economy. The research center has developed an innovative carbon management cycle that captures carbon dioxide from air.
The aim is to demonstrate a system that increases efficiency and scope of DAC while lowering the cost. The center is currently testing a prototype technology for extracting CO2 from the air through the use of “mechanical trees”.
The technology works as the sorbent – an anionic exchange resin, absorbs CO2 when dry, and releases it again when exposed to moisture. The trees are 10 meters high and sequester the GHG brought from wind within 20 minutes. The CO2 is collected as a liquid which can then be converted into a carbon neutral fuel, other products or sequestered for permanent disposal.
The research on mechanical trees has been going on for two decades. The technology was developed by Dr. Klaus Lackner – the director of Center for Negative Carbon Emissions. The trees are a thousand times more efficient than natural trees at removing CO2 from the atmosphere.
The center aims to be a leader in the direct air capture field and also examines the economic, political and social ramifications that would arise from an available cheap DAC technology.
Stanford University Center For Carbon Storage
The Stanford Center for Carbon Storage is working on the key CCS technologies for capturing GHG emissions from smokestacks and storing them. It is trying to develop low cost ways for permanent storage and at an industrial scale.
The center is doing the research to address critical questions related to flow physics, monitoring, geochemistry, and simulation of the transport and what happens with the CO2 stored underground. The storage research covers fully-depleted oil fields, saline aquifers, and other unconventional reservoirs.
University of Cambridge Carbon Capture, Storage And Use Research
The University of Cambridge has founded the Energy Transitions@Cambridge which is an Interdisciplinary Research Centre dedicated to develop solutions for current and future energy challenges. It combines the activities of over 250 academics working in energy research across 30 departments and faculties.
The Carbon Capture Storage and Use research is part of the Energy Transitions@Cambridge, trying to understand and raise public awareness of opportunities and risks regarding CCUS. Some of the areas of focus include the chemical looping of solid fuels to produce clean CO2 free of nitrogen, the shift reaction for the hydrogasification of coal to methane gas.
The research looks into the reforming of methane to hydrogen with solid sorbents, the seismological observations of active injection sites, and on the use side – the manufacturing processes of CO2 and carbonate mineralisation.
The university’s research program brings together academics and external partners that focus on cutting-edge technology themes in carbon capture to come up with a solution for large-scale decarbonization.
University Of Michigan – Global CO2 Initiative
The University of Michigan’s Global CO2 Initiative is a research program that examines captured CO2 utilization technologies from early stages to the stages of commercial deployment. In 2017, the university also introduced the Blue Sky Initiative – a funding model for supporting high risk high reward ideas.
The initiative selects research teams that have to go through a couple of defined milestones to get the resources they need to develop their ideas. The goal is for the teams to aggressively pursue their concepts and thus define Michigan’s leadership position in certain areas.
The research program focuses on the utilization side of the carbon capture technology with a mission to turn CO2 reuse into a mainstream climate change solution. Four projects are currently under development, supported by the Blue Sky Initiative – bendable concrete, stronger natural fibers for composites, CO2 electrolysis using hedgehog particles and a superior CO2 capture technology.
The university also conducts research on the public acceptability of products made from carbon dioxide. The level of public acceptance, interest and awareness is of fundamental importance for the success of those products.
The research proposes qualitative focus groups and a quantitative nationally-representative survey to identify the factors that contribute to or erode support for CCU products and their production.
Sheffield University Research Into Carbon Dioxide Utilization
The UK Centre for Carbon Dioxide Utilisation (CDUUK) has coordinated seven researchers in the University of Sheffield for interdisciplinary research into CO2 utilization. The research focuses on CO2 usage as a feedstock for chemical synthesis, fuels and polymers production, biological transformations of CO2, life cycle analysis and public perception studies.
The professionals aim to eliminate the need for manufacturing petrochemicals and provide a more sustainable option of captured CO2 reuse. The research is addressing challenges related to new catalysts, integration with renewable energy and production conditions optimization. It pioneers new CO2 products and implementation strategies.
University of Wyoming’s Center For Carbon Capture And Conversion
The University of Wyoming’s Center For Carbon Capture And Conversion has been created to support the coal market in Wyoming by investigating new ways to convert coal into valuable engineered and chemical products.
The center works to find sustainable ways to use coal as an energy resource and integrate carbon capture for a cleaner, more efficient and viable deployment. It also conducts research to find opportunities to transfer existing coal mining professional talents into new job pathways.
Texas University Carbon Management Program
The Texas Carbon Management Program is engaged in researching carbon capture technologies mainly for coal and natural gas power plant flue gases to lower the emissions of fossil-fuel combustion. The professionals investigate post-combustion amine scrubbing as a system for carbon capture and storage.
The process works as the CO2 is absorbed into an aqueous amine solvent at low temperature in an absorber. It is then dissolved and the solution is sent to a stripper where it is heated to high temperatures causing the CO2 to desorb. The ambient CO2 could be later compressed for geological storage or used for enhanced oil recovery.
There is a CO2 Capture Pilot Plant Project being developed that tests the advanced and innovative amine solvent process. There are plans for two or more additional pilot plants to provide real coal-fired flue gas at 0.1 and 0.5 MW to test solvent robustness in the future.
The academics are also working on collecting thermodynamic and rate measurements, testing amine degradation, mitigating nitrosamines, quantifying aerosol formation, creating process models, improving process design and efficiency, and understanding pilot plant results.
Other University Programs
Other university programs focused on carbon capture research are The University of Nottingham Low Carbon Energy and Resources Technologies Research Group, the University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research (CAER) and the University of South-Eastern Norway Energy and CO2 Capture research.
The University of Nottingham low carbon research institute aims to advance solid adsorbents for post-combustion capture. In this process both activated carbons and supported amines have the potential to reduce regeneration energies considerably lower than for advanced amine systems.
It also hosts research focused on oxyfuel combustion, including circulating fluidised beds, as well as studies covering the technical and economic feasibility of CO2 reuse. Comprehensive processes are examined along with cost modelling studies.
Carbon Capture Studies To Keep Rising?
While the world recognizes the need for the energy sector to change and transform into a carbon negative, research is being conducted across universities to allow for the decarbonization of the industry to take place.
Carbon capture utilization and storage and carbon capture and storage are two segments that can make significant contribution to removing excess GHGs and reducing the carbon footprint of the energy sector.
That is why they are under the spotlight for scientific research and investments as currently, the world does not have the technologies ready to be deployed at large scale at low cost to halt CO2 emissions.