By: Erik Kane | On: February 18, 2020
Lately, I’m seeing more and more about carbon capture technologies and commitments to be “carbon-free” or “net-zero” in terms of carbon emissions in the news. Geoengineering once seemed like science fiction, but has now started to become more of a scientific reality (even a necessity). I remember reading an article about the problems related to carbon emissions some years ago – the geologist used a metaphor comparing the earth inside its atmosphere to a car sitting inside a garage with the engine running. When asked: “How long do we have to shut the engine off before it’s too late?” The geologist answered, “…at least 10 years ago.” So, as important as it is that we improve our processes now and reduce our impact on the environment going forward, it begs the question of how can we turn back the clock? Among the efforts to accomplish this prevention and removal of the carbon dioxide that’s already in the atmosphere is a process called Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology.
So how exactly do you capture something that quite literally ‘disappears into thin air?’ In general, Carbon Capture (CCS) technology generally refers to the treatment before, or immediately following the combustion of fuels. These are called “point” sources, meaning a specific and significant source of emissions like a power plant or natural gas processing center. In this capacity, CCS can remove roughly 90% of the carbon dioxide that would normally be vented into the atmosphere.
By intervening at these critical choke points we can get ahold of the majority of carbon emissions at the source. It’s attractive as an emergent technology because modern plants can be retro-fitted to make use of these processes using existing equipment. In fact, the technologies to scrub CO2 are not new, and are actually well-understood. The process of gas storage through pipelines and pressurized cylinders is also quite common and used in various ways in many industries (like through Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) technologies in oil refining). However, the issues lie in the current costs associated with deployment of these technologies on a scale large enough that will have a meaningful impact (these costs can be inhibitive on plants adopting the technology, with the capture and compression phases of the CO2 account for 90% of the costs).
Retrofitting existing plants and incorporating new techniques is something global industry is used to doing and is great for point sources, but what about the turning back of the clock? How do we address all the small contributors like car exhaust where we don’t have a major point source? This is where we start to run into problems in terms of innovation. Direct Air Capture (DAC) techniques are not yet well out-lined. The basic concept is to either use a huge series of fans to draw air over a chemical “scrubber” that will grab the CO2 molecules which can then be cleaned, and the scrubbers regenerated to capture more CO2 – or create a very large series of smaller CO2 scrubbers described as “artificial trees” that are roughly 1000x more effective than natural ones (hint: they don’t look anything like trees).
This technique could be an important component in the mix of mitigation for CO2 emissions, but the scale would be to such a degree that it is not yet feasible to employ these techniques. As a reference point, some of the few proposed full-scale plants would have a maximum capacity of scrubbing 1 megatonne of CO2 per year…and the current global rate of CO2 production is 36,000 megatonnes per year. Given that there are only about 63,000 power plants in the entire world – it’s a bit staggering to think of the scale that would be needed to bring us to a global net zero production with DAC technology alone, let alone reduce the current levels.
Overall, most sources agree that some kind of conglomerate mix of carbon capture is the only way we can begin to bring all these ideas together to make a meaningful impact. As these technologies and techniques begin to develop, the necessary component applications needed for their function will become better defined as well. For example: gases like CO2 are often cooled and condensed cryogenically to be distributed and transferred more safely and in larger quantities. Chemical lines installed for scrubber systems are used to remove gases and other pollutants in modern pollution control in power plants, and could be even more prevalent with these future technologies at point sources. Hose Master has seen all sorts of changes and trends in the power generation industry over the years. Whatever the future holds, Hose Master is well-equipped to be a part of the solution. If you If you have a question about flexible connections or applications in the power generation industry, be sure to give Hose Master a call at 1-800-221-2319 or send us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and use our industry expertise to your advantage!
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