Carbon capture close-up

15 Sep 2023

carbon capture close-up

To reinforce a critical new front in the climate fight, GEA has developed a set of carbon capture solutions tailored to the needs of key industrial emitters.

In the fight against climate change, the gradual introduction of renewable power, sustainable fuels and energy efficient practices will certainly help, but it won’t do the job alone. Over the near term, capturing CO2 from point sources for re-use or long-term underground storage will be critical. Carbon capture, in fact, is widely regarded as the single most important short-term solution to reining in COemissions and getting the world on course to achieving its climate targets.1

Carbon capture has been used for decades to upgrade natural gas into saleable fuel or inject recovered CO2 into oil fields to enhance oil recovery. But for today’s heavy industrial emitters of CO2, carbon capture is essentially new territory. And while oil & gas companies have always had a clear economic incentive to separate CO2 from their product streams, the same cannot be said for a cement or steel producer. In Europe, for example, these industrial emitters face the prospect of having to invest in carbon capture and raise their prices accordingly, while still competing against producers in countries with no CO2 legislation in place. And they cannot afford to wait. The demand for climate action – from regulators, the general public and the planet itself – is simply too loud and too urgent.

In short: today’s industrial emitters are in need of a quick, effective and economical way to capture and get rid of their CO2.

GEA’s carbon capture mission

A longtime provider of emissions control solutions, GEA is now focused on helping heavy-emitting industries get started with carbon capture. “To realize the promise of carbon capture, it will have to become cheaper and easier to implement across multiple industries,” says Dr. Felix Ortloff, Senior Director GEA Carbon Capture Solutions. Ortloff and his team have focused on five industries in particular – cement, iron & steel, glass, chemicals and bioenergy – and designed a set of carbon capture solutions tailored to their specific needs. “First, many of these companies have to respond to regulatory changes and follow their own net-zero pathways, so they need to get started quite urgently,” says Ortloff. “Second, without massive subsidies, they most likely want to start on a small to medium scale so they can manage project costs and potentially extend the capacity in a next extension step. Third, they’re looking for a solution with limited complexity; here a single provider helps by reducing battery limits. Finally, they want a solution that can be integrated into their operations without disrupting them.”

To meet these requirements, GEA has developed an end-to-end carbon capture portfolio consisting of four main components:

  • XECO Waste-Heat-Recovery – For maximum economy: heat from a plant’s processes and flue gases are used to provide a large share of the heat required for COseparation. 
  • SETO Gas Pre-Treatment – For maximum effectiveness and longevity: harmful trace components are removed from the flue gas to maximize the long-term stability of the carbon capture chemistry.
  • CEBO Carbon Capturing Plants – Four different sized amine-based carbon capture plants provide customers with a fit for purpose, economic solution that is easy to install. 
  • NAVO COUtilization & Sequestration – Solutions for COpurification, liquefaction, conditioning and transport allow customers to get rid of their captured CO– for re-use in industrial production or long-term storage

For Ortloff, GEA’s extensive experience in emissions control, waste heat recovery and COliquefaction and reuse – along with its core expertise in designing, installing and scaling industrial process lines – gives it the edge over the competition. “Our decades of experience in off-gas treatment allow us to offer a more standardized, straight-forward design concept using materials that are cost-efficient yet more durable,” he says. “We also have the financial strength to run larger projects at a very competitive price level compared to some established players in the field. And we guarantee performance, so project risk is very low for our customers.”

carbon capture

GEA´s Carbon Capturing Solutions for an optimal and economic CO2 reduction.

Cost efficiency through heat recovery

The most energy-intensive step of the carbon capture process is the heating of the amine solution in the thermal reboiler to desorb and separate the COgas. GEA’s XECO Waste Heat Recovery solution makes maximum use of the plant’s available waste heat to help power this step in the process and minimize operating costs.

"Some of today’s flagship carbon capture projects enjoy generous public funding – which is necessary to gain experience with a new technology – but the vast majority of industrial emitters will have to fund carbon capture by themselves. Fueling the carbon capture process with recovered waste heat is a great way to minimize costs."- Dr. Felix Ortloff, Senior Director Carbon Capture Solutions, GEA

- Dr. Felix Ortloff, Senior Director Carbon Capture Solutions, GEA

As Ortloff points out, an effective waste heat recovery system must also be designed according to the specific properties of the plant’s flue gas. Selecting the appropriate heat carrier medium – whether thermal oil or steam – is another important factor. “GEA has a long history of utilizing excess heat from industrial processes and flue gases to help customers improve energy efficiency in their plants,” says Ortloff. “One of the challenges of heat recovery for cement plants, for example, is the high dust loads in the kiln flue gas which can severely effect longevity of the heat recovery unit. Our XECO Waste Heat Recovery system has already proven its ability to run for years under these conditions while maintaining very good heat transfer performance.” 

Glass producers have also relied on GEA’s XECO solution for over ten years to improve energy efficiency. “Because glass production generates relatively large amounts of waste heat, our carbon capture solution can help them achieve significant COremoval – roughly 40-50% – with little or no added energy input,” says Ortloff.

Gas pre-treatment for long-term performance

GEA has provided emission control solutions to the cement, iron & steel, glass, chemicals and bioenergy industries for many years. “Each industry has its own flue gas profile and proper pre-treatment of the off-gas is critical to ensuring optimal carbon capture performance,” says Ortloff. This is because typical off-gases in these industries include trace components – particularly nitric oxides (NOx), sulfuric oxides (SOx), aerosols, and solid particulates, such as dust – that negatively impact the stability of the amine solution used to capture and remove the CO2

Pre-treatment also involves controlling the humidity of flue gas. “We need to maintain stable water concentration in the amine solution,” explains Ortloff. “If the water content of flue gas is too high or too low, this will also harm the performance.” GEA’s flue gas pre-treatment also lowers the risk of deposits forming in the carbon capture system, which significantly impacts maintenance costs. 

Knowing the unique flue-gas profiles of each of these industries helped GEA design its SETO Gas Pre-Treatment solution in a way that allows for individualized configuration of the gas cleaning line. “Our experience in gas pre-treatment, allow us to seamlessly integrate the COseparation process into each customer’s off-gas line for lower operational costs and more reliable carbon capture performance,” says Ortloff.

Agile carbon capture

GEA’s CEBO Carbon Capturing plants rely on state-of-the-art amine-based COcapture. This involves passing the plant’s flue gas through an amine solvent, which removes the COvia absorption; the solvent is then heated to release pure COfor the final re-use or storage phase. While this is long-established practice in the oil & gas industry, the challenge today is to introduce carbon capture to a range of other heavy-emitting industries quickly and affordably. “Amine-based carbon capture in the oil & gas industry usually involves huge-scale projects with very large gas throughputs that are very costly to build, install and operate,” says Ortloff. “This simply does not match the needs of our target industries in cement, iron & steel, glass, chemicals or bioenergy, where you have a range of gas throughputs and budgets. To serve these industries, we need a simplified and more agile approach.”

GEA offers four differently sized carbon capture plants – ranging from 16 to 200 ktpa of COseparation capacity – based on the average waste heat available in different industries.

"For a large cement plant, the waste heat available might allow us to capture 20% of their flue gas CO2 as a first step; for a glass plant, that figure might be 40-50%."- Dr. Felix Ortloff, Senior Director Carbon Capture Solutions, GEA

- Dr. Felix Ortloff, Senior Director Carbon Capture Solutions, GEA

“Bioenergy is interesting because we can achieve net negative anthropogenic COemissions if COsequestration is applied. This is because the captured COoriginally stems from biomass growth – natural direct air capture, so to speak.”

The design of GEA’s CEBO Carbon Capturing plants is simple and modularized. Standard 40-foot containers, which serve as the “building block”, are pre-assembled for quick installation and feature side doors for easy access and maintenance. CEBO Carbon Capturing plants use corrosion resistant materials, such as thermoplastic or stainless steel. A self-optimizing control system is remote-support-ready, ensuring ease of operation and quick technical support for customers. 

Utilization & sequestration for the good of the climate

To achieve a positive impact on a company’s climate balance, the captured COmust either be sequestered – via long-term underground storage, for example – or used instead of fossil COfor producing goods, such as beverages or fuel. Because the market and infrastructure for both the utilization and storage of captured COis relatively new, this can pose an additional challenge for companies getting started with carbon capture. 

  • What options are available for re-use, storage or transport? 
  • What requirements must be met in terms of purity, physical state, pressure and temperature? 
  • And how can a company make sure these requirements are met consistently over the long term? 

GEA’s NAVO CO2 Utilization & Sequestration solutions draw on its longstanding expertise in chemical processing, including COliquefaction, conditioning, transport and re-use. “We can condition the COas needed and prepare a connection point for either modular transport or pipeline feed,” says Ortloff. “For industrial re-use, a refrigerated liquid state transport using tanks via truck or rail is most common, with Europe (EIGA) requiring at least 99.9% purity for food and beverage use.2 Specs for pipeline transport – for storage, for example – will be different.” Because transport costs for liquid CO2 remain high, GEA recommends that companies identify potential COcustomers in their vicinity and offers support with battery limit specifications. 

  • As a longtime partner to the brewery industry, GEA has experience recovering food-grade CO2 for reuse in beverage production. 
  • Working with industrial partners, GEA can synthesize methanol from COand H2 for use as a fuel, fuel additive or seed building block in the chemical industry. 
  • GEA also offers expertise in the production of carbonates from captured COfor use in various industries, including glass, pharmaceuticals, pulp & paper. “With GEA's extensive experience in crystallization technologies, we are able to act as a technology supplier in carbonate/bicarbonate projects of scales of several 100 tons of production capacity per day,” says Ortloff. 
  • For added flexibility, GEA offers the option of an intermediate storage facility for the captured CO2
  • In addition, thermal energy gained from cooling and compressing the COcan be re-integrated into a heat transfer system to enhance overall efficiency.
Small(er) steps for sustainable success

GEA launched development of its carbon capture portfolio in 2021 because it recognized an opportunity to contribute decades of GEA know-how to a critical new front in the fight against climate change. It also recognized that heavy-emitting industries like cement and iron & steel will need to start small with carbon capture before transitioning to larger-scale installations. “We designed our carbon capture plant to achieve 90% COremoval and the pilot has confirmed our ability to do this,” says Ortloff.

"But in the short term, full-scale removal is not realistic for most companies. For now, emitters will have to balance the cost of investment in carbon capture against the cost of carbon credits and continue to pursue both options. As credits become less available and more expensive, companies will be pushed to invest more in carbon capture."- Dr. Felix Ortloff, Senior Director Carbon Capture Solutions, GEA

- Dr. Felix Ortloff, Senior Director Carbon Capture Solutions, GEA

In the near future, shareholder demands, tighter regulations, more generous government incentives, or a robust market for captured CO– or all of the above – might well drive industrial plants to capture a larger percentage of their COemissions for re-use and storage. “We’re ready for this and look forward to it,” says Ortloff. “But in the meantime, we can help heavy emitters achieve more modest gains today with a quick, cost-effective and scalable solution. If a cement plant can achieve 20% COremoval, they’ll take a critical step forward and be in a much stronger position to ramp up capacity down the road.”

Proof in the pilot

As a proof-of-concept for target industries, GEA has developed a “mobile” carbon capture pilot plant, complete with a gas pre-treatment module. Easily integrated into range of plant sizes, the trial installation is designed to provide customers with full transparency, allowing them to operate it themselves to help judge performance, degree of automation and ease of operation. Currently installed at PHOENIX Zementwerke in Beckum, Germany for a 3 - 6 month trial, the plant has so far met Ortloff’s target of 90% CO2 removal efficiency and delivered valuable data to help optimize carbon capture operations at the site. “By integrating our gas pre-treatment into the trial plant, we can fine tune our understanding of the off-gas matrix for the given operation and better understand how to ensure the long-term stability of the amine chemistry,” says Ortloff. “This experience can help us scale up to a fully operational carbon capture plant even quicker and more effectively.” GEA is now working with PHOENIX on a concept for integration of a larger scale carbon capture plant into their site. The pilot plant will move to a second cement producer in Q4 2023.
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