As the hard-to-abate industries are working towards meeting sustainability goals, next-generation energy efficient carbon capture technologies are in focus as one of the potential decarbonization pathways. Nuada is a pure-play carbon capture company, initially founded in 2012 as MOF Technologies and re-branded in 2023.
We interviewed Dr. Conor Hamill, Co-CEO of Nuada, who talked about how the company’s combined advanced solid adsorbents (metal-organic frameworks – MOFs) with vacuum swing technology reduce the energy input and costs associated with other alternative carbon capture methods.
My first question to you is, how was Nuada founded? What is the journey of the company?
Nuada is a spin-out from the local university here in Belfast. We started life as a producer of novel solid sorbent materials, called metal-organic frameworks (MOFs). We soon identified that we had built substantial knowledge around incorporating and utilizing these materials, specifically for carbon capture.
We then subsequently used the know-how to produce, shape and integrate these materials, and started building out a technology solution that could efficiently capture CO2. I suppose that is really where we landed today.
What is the company’s mission? Do you have a climate goal?
Yes, absolutely. From our perspective, it is recognized that carbon capture is a critical climate technology to reach net zero. There is no net zero without carbon capture, and it is estimated by the IEA that we need to build circa 6 billion tons of CO2 removal capacity over the coming decades.
That is a heck of a lot of infrastructure that needs to be built. The main challenge that is really deterring businesses from capturing CO2, is the sheer cost and energy intensity associated with the common solutions. Our goal is to ultimately enable these hard-to-abate foundational industries to realize their decarbonization targets efficiently and economically.
How is the Nuada technology working exactly in more detail? What are metal-organic frameworks and vacuum swing technology – the terms that you use to describe your approach?
On a high level, essentially, what we have is a vacuum filtration system that vacuums carbon dioxide from the chimney stacks of power plants, cement plants, steel plants, etc. On a more granular level, Nuada technology is the combination of an advanced solid sorbent material called metal-organic framework with a mature process technology called vacuum swing adsorption.
Vacuum swing adsorption is a very well-known process technology that has been widely scaled and adopted in various industries, for different gas separations. We have a very good level of confidence that the supply chain and manufacturing capabilities exist to scale this technology very rapidly.
Metal-organic frameworks are adsorbent materials, similar to what you would see with zeolites, silica, and activated carbon. But with a metal-organic framework, you have the autonomy to essentially tune the chemistry at a molecular level to be very specific at capturing CO2. You can think of it almost as a Lego set for chemists, where you can combine a metal component with an organic component to create a highly porous filter that is very selective at capturing CO2 only.
Nuada technology package is the combination of solid sorbents with this mature process technology, which then unlocks the potential to be able to capture carbon efficiently and economically. This ultimately yields a heatless, solvent-free capture technology that can reduce that energy penalty and subsequently the cost of capture.
And you don’t need heat to capture the emissions?
Exactly, the technology is driven by pressure alone as pressure creates the driving force to capture and release the CO2. There is no heat required to break chemical bonds similar to what you see with the incumbent solvent systems. When you have no heat, you don’t require any steam which further drives down our cost of capture.
Moreover, you don’t have the complexity of having to integrate this technology into existing process plants. This is a pure end-of-pipe solution that can be deployed at the back end of the process. It simply draws off the flue gas from the stack that passes through the vacuum filter, and it separates the carbon dioxide.
How much of the CO2 can be captured by the system?
At the moment, we’re demonstrating 95% recovery of all the CO2 that passes through.
How do you manage to cut down the energy consumption of your technology by 80%?
Due to the nature of the interaction between our sorbents and CO2 molecules, we don’t have this huge energy sink of having to break loose chemical bonds for carbon capture.
What industries do you target to decarbonize via Nuada technology? Is it fit for all kinds of industrial facilities?
We are looking at these real hard-to-decarbonize foundational industries. We have traction within the cement industry and we have partnered with global cement majors like Heidelberg Materials, Buzzi Unicem, and Cementir Holding. Now, we are building first-of-a-kind pilot plants with these pioneers and innovators.
Moreover, we have recently announced some additional plants that we will be building. One of them is a plant at an energy-from-waste facility in the UK. This shows the diversity and versatility of the technology to be pointed in quite a diverse flue gas range, from energy from waste flue gas conditions right up to what is considered a relatively dirty cement flue gas.
Could you please tell us more about the pilot plants that you’re developing right now?
We are currently building our first plant that will be deployed at Buzzi Unicems’ plant located in Monselice in Northeast Italy, near Venice. This is a one-tonne CO2 captured per day (1TPD) plant that will showcase the efficiency and performance of this technology.
We are also building a second one-tonne-per-day pilot plant at this UK energy-from-the-waste facility. Again, to showcase to stakeholders the versatility of the capture technology to treat a broad spectrum of point-source CO2 concentrations.
What are you hoping to learn from these two projects?
We are looking to build confidence and operational experience with these different stakeholders, to demonstrate to them the effectiveness of this new technology to efficiently separate the CO2 from industrial off-gases. It is about building wider industry confidence that this approach has a critical role to play in achieving the various net zero ambitions a lot of these hard-to-abate industries have.
Demonstrating is the stepping stone to further thinking about engineering larger plants. We are using a mature process technology in the form of vacuum swing, and we are confident we can achieve that scale-up a lot more rapidly than some of the other next-generation capture technologies.
What are your plans for future projects?
We are in discussions with various emitters concerning feasibility studies, and potential piloting studies but we are also starting to think about engineering studies for larger plants. There is an exciting range of interest from emitters in the foundational industries recognizing the need for an efficient, low-cost capture technology to unlock the decarbonization required for them.
Can you reveal what is your cost per ton of CO2 captured?
This is a difficult one to estimate, as it depends on many variables like scale, point source, geography, and utilities availability. You can certainly lean on the energy-saving benefits that translate themselves through to a considerably lower cost of capture. You do not have to input substantial amounts of energy to operate the capture plant which ultimately leads to lower cost of capture versus the incumbent systems.
You recently announced an investment from BGF that amounts to £3.4 million ($4.25 million). Would you like to comment on the funding round?
We are very delighted to have such a large institutional investor like BGF come on board. I think the provision of capital is essential to get technologies like ours, ready for this fight against climate change and for the deployment of CCS technologies. We very much welcome these guys on board, and they are certainly going to accelerate the scaling of our plants.
When is the plant in the UK expected to start operating?
We are hoping to have something operational by the end of Q3 this year.
What do you plan next for Nuada?
The stage we are at is about demonstrating and building confidence with the industry, with these different stakeholders that our technology can help them realize their decarbonization goals. We continue to work further with engineering and outlining larger scale plants and start preparing for the rapid scaleup.
At what stage are you hoping to be in 2030?
I believe we will have hopefully secured a final investment decision (FID) on a full-scale plant by then.