US DOE Workshop on Modelling Carbon Capture Technology in the Industrial Sector


By Keith Burnard

24 February 2021

The US DOE held its annual workshop on modelling carbon capture as two 2-hour sessions on consecutive days, 17-18 February 2021. This year, the focus was on modelling carbon capture in the industrial sector and, due to the pandemic, the workshop was held as a virtual event. The event was organised by Jae Edmunds (PNNL) and Danielle Koren (DOE), and chaired by DOE’s Jarad Daniels. As with previous events, the focus was predominantly on the United States, with a handful of ‘overseas’ experts invited to take part. The workshop offered an opportunity for the 50+ experts participating to share progress and to discuss the way forward with peers. In particular, discussions addressed the challenges to capturing CO2 in the industrial sector, the remaining gaps for industrial CCS modelling, and what needs to be done better to understand the role of CCUS in the industry sector along pathways to low emissions. For DOE, it was an opportunity to identify what role it might play in facilitating progress in this area, an important area for the United States to address in its ambition to radically reduce its GHG emissions footprint.

Jennifer Wilcox, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Office of Fossil Energy at the Department of Energy, described the role of CCUS as a critical tool in the Biden-Harris administration’s low-carbon priorities. She said that removing CO2 emissions from power and industry and carbon removal from the air were important processes and, while carbon removal would always be more expensive, both were needed. She emphasised the importance of keeping social implications in mind when developing and deploying these technologies, e.g. affordability, land-use change, water and jobs. Creating a fair and sustainable low-carbon economy, she pointed out, would require collaboration across government, academia and industry.

Angelos Kokkinos, Director of the DOE’s Office of Advanced Fossil Technology Systems, briefly described the current status of industrial CCUS plants in the United States. He made the observation that, within the industry sector, there was mush low hanging fruit, with around 70 Mt CO2/a available for capture at less than $100/tonne and 30 Mt CO2/a at less than $40/tonne.

Jeff Brown, Stanford University, made the point that, to reduce or eliminate CO2 emissions from industry, there were often no alternatives other than to use CCS. He reiterated the point made earlier about the availability of low-cost options, giving the case of decarbonising black liquor (from pulp and paper manufacture) for $50-60 Mt CO2/a. Noting that industry CCS was often more economical than power CCS, he observed that industry accounted for around 30% of stationary emission sources in the United States. He emphasised the importance of continuing DOE funding for FEED studies.

DOE’s Lynn Brickett observed that, while many capture technologies might initially have been developed for application to the power sector, the majority were equally applicable to the industry sector. She reported back on many interesting issues that had been reported following a recent DOE Request for Information on R&D challenges or research gaps associated with the application of carbon capture to industrial emissions. The main concerns raised regarding the application of carbon capture to industrial plants were footprint, CAPEX, OPEX, water and permitting – in that order.

Rick Bohan, Portland Cement Association, commented that capture from cement manufacture was tricky given that 62% of CO2 emissions were process-related and only 38% combustion emissions. However, given the importance attached to reducing the footprint of emissions from cement, he listed several projects of varying size globally that were varying stages of advanced development. He said there were many research, engineering and pilot projects currently ongoing.

Tim Merkel, Membrane Technology Research, said that, while membranes were in common use, e.g. to remove CO2 from natural gas or in seawater desalination, most of these applications were at high pressure. Using membranes to separate CO2 from flue gases, which were usually at lower pressures, was more difficult. However, developments were ongoing – small scale trials at NCCC had been completed, with 20tpd testing at Mongstad and large pilot-scale (100tpd) at the Dry Fork Station under test. He commented that membranes were best suited for partial CO2 capture (50%-80%) from streams with a higher CO2 content (>10%).

Claude Letorneau described Svante’s carbon capture technology based on solid sorbents. The capital cost of the technology was low, at ~$50/t, with 90% capture. Economies of scale would result in lower costs for larger plants.

NETL’s Tim Fout, said that NETL would be publishing an update of its report on CCS in industry, with a draft for review likely to be available in early April.

Next came three presentations focused on industrial sector CCUS modelling – Gale Boyd, Duke University, spoke on EMF 37, Sha Yu, PNNL, on the GCAM model and Frances Wood, OnLocation, on the NEMS model. As primers for the discussion to follow, they described the opportunities for CCUS in industry and manufacturing and the challenges faced, e.g. the heterogeneity across sectors and regions, the need for better data and the difficulty in predicting future industry output.

The final hour of the workshop comprised a general discussion on gaps in the modelling of industrial CCUS and what needs to be done better, a flavour of which is picked up in the comments below.

While CCUS is widely recognised as a key, cost-effective option for reducing CO2 emissions from industrial applications, modelling the industrial sector is complex. Whereas the power sector can take advantage of alternatives to fossil fuels, in several industries deep emission reductions can only be achieved through CCUS. And, unlike coal and gas-fired power generation plants that differ mainly in their size, in the industrial sector, there is a multiplicity of different energy-intensive industrial applications to add to the complexity, e.g. cement, iron and steel, chemicals, pulp and paper, and aluminium. Industrial plants are also to be found in different geographical locations, all with differing labour and component costs, differing environmental conditions in which to operate, and differing regulatory measures to meet.

Industry also differs from the power sector in that industrial applications often comprise process emissions in addition to combustion emissions. Mentioned above is the 60:40 split between process and combustion CO2 emissions from cement plants. In some other cases, such as refining, there may be multiple sources of process emissions.

The potential was raised of possibly rationalising the construction of new industry plants. For example, take the example of a cement plant with CCUS. There are several different materials transport streams – coal (from mine), limestone and clay (from quarry), captured CO2 (to storage site), and cement (shipped to point of use). Could the cement manufacturing process be redesigned into more than one stage, perhaps to transport intermediate materials (clinker) instead of fuel, to minimise transport of bulk solids and thereby make the process more efficient and less CO2 emitting? Apparently, this is being considered in some constituencies.

Retrofitting is important. Considering the number of industrial plants that have been constructed over the past decade (both in the United States and worldwide), and recognising that these plants can have an economic life of 25+ years, extensive retrofitting with CO2 capture technology will be essential for any country with ambitions to reach net-zero in the second half of this century. With several different industrial sectors, some with more than one possible emission source, footprint, cost and performance may well present very significant challenges. 

The classification of CO2 from a regulatory standpoint was raised. Interested parties were directed to the following statement: 

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has exempted CO2 streams from hazardous waste regulations (RCRA Subtitle C) as long as the streams are injected into Class VI underground injection control (UIC) wells under specified procedures and conditions. However, EPA kept supercritical CO2 streams within the definition of solid waste, thereby retaining some RCRA liability. There is an inevitable conflict between the policy goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and responsibly managing waste disposal, and this is particularly illustrated through EPA’s conditional exemption and Class VI UIC well regulations. Adding to the conflict, there are some legal challenges to EPA’s position that CO2 streams may be considered a solid waste. Part II of this paper defines “solid waste.” Part III explains the conditional exemption of CO2 streams from hazardous waste regulation. Part IV describes the UIC program and examines how this illustrates the RCRA-climate mitigation clash. Part V explores the legal challenges to EPA’s conditional exemption and comments briefly on their merits. 

Taking all these factors into account, ensuring reasonable assumptions are made and ensuring models are populated with relevant, up-to-date data is no trivial endeavour – for even a single country or region, let alone global models. That is why many modellers are exploring the potential for relevant technology experts to compile accessible datasets.

The role of IEAGHG in addressing CCUS in the industrial sector was raised. It was noted the IEAGHG 2018/TR03 report, which assessed the cost of CO2 capture in the cement and iron and steel sector. In this study, different CO2 capture technologies were evaluated under one unique financial and economic framework. This report was carried out by IEAGHG and IEA and will be updated regularly.

In addition, several international collaborators, including NETLs Tim Fout and Michael Matuszewski, were shortly to publish papers on the topic.

Note: Additionally, IEAGHG has published the following reports:

  • IEAGHG, ‘Performance and cost of retrofitting CCS in the pulp and paper industry – Papers for Members’ reference’, 2016-TR05, July 2016.
  • IEAGHG, ‘Cost of CO2 capture in the industrial sector: Cement and iron and steel industries’, 2018-TR03, September 2018. 

Please visit our Techncial Reports section for more information.

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