By: Regina Ramazzini

TechConnect speaks with Ron Munson, Global Lead at Carbon Capture at the Global CCS Institute and TechConnect Symposium Chair.

  Ron Munson

Please introduce yourself and tell us about your role within your organization.

I am the Global Lead – Carbon Capture at the Global CCS Institute, which is a leading international authority in carbon capture and storage (CCS). I oversee all capture-related activity undertaken at the Institute, including development of knowledge products, technical advocacy, engagement with CO2-intensive industries, and technical briefings to lawmakers and their staff as well as staff at multiple government agencies I previously worked as a contractor supporting the carbon capture and advanced (oxygen-fired) combustion research, development and demonstration programs at the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) in the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). This included efforts at all stages along the commercialization pathway, from process concept through demonstration.

Please tell us about Carbon Capture and Utilization (CCU) - what are the areas of greatest interest/excitement in this field, and what type of applications are possible.

Carbon Capture and Utilization (CCU) employs the same capture technologies/approaches as CCS, but the captured carbon is then committed to a beneficial use as opposed to dedicated carbon storage. CCU/CCS is a proven, safe and reliable three-stage technology that (1) separates carbon dioxide (CO2) from power or industrial gas streams, (2) transports the CO2, largely through pipelines, and then (3) uses or stores the captured CO2, preventing its release to the atmosphere where it can contribute to climate change. CO2 separation has been widely used in in various industries – notably in natural gas processing – since the 1930s, and utilization associated with Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) has been practiced since the 1970s. There are 15 large-scale integrated CCU/CCS facilities in operation globally and seven more are slated to initiate operations in 2017. These facilities include natural gas processing operations, hydrogen production, steel production, ammonia/fertilizer production, bioethanol production, gasification operations and power production, and together will store or utilize approximately 40 million tons of CO2 per year. 

Technology development in CCU is focused on reducing the cost associated with carbon capture systems and scaling utilization pathways beyond EOR.

What can we expect to see from innovation and applications in the next 5-10 years?

Innovation in carbon capture technology will target three main areas: materials, processes, and equipment.
R&D related to materials will involve the development of higher-performance solvents, sorbents, and membranes. For solvents and sorbents, that could mean materials with enhanced separation kinetics. Faster reactions allow for shorter residence times and smaller reaction vessels. Smaller vessels correspond to lower capital costs. In addition, solvents and sorbents that require less energy to strip separated CO2 would result in lower parasitic energy losses and thus decreased costs. For membranes, materials with enhanced permeability and selectivity would have similar impacts on both capital and operating costs.

Process improvements can also lead to reductions in both capital and operating costs. Heat integration can lead to efficiency improvements in both the capture system and the associated power plant or manufacturing facility (eg boiler feedwater pre-heating). Process intensification involves coupling of two or more processes or systems within a single vessel. This can take the form of a hybrid process, such as one that includes both a solvent and a membrane contactor. Another form of process intensification is the combination of CO2 separation and syngas shift in a water gas shift reactor of an integrated gasification combined cycle system. Combining multiple processes into a single reactor reduces capital costs and, depending on the process, can also reduce energy requirements.

Development activity surrounding equipment for carbon capture is focused on novel designs that allow for size reduction and energy efficient processing. These designs may include features that enhance contacting between the capture medium and flue gases, effectively increasing mass transfer and decreasing the size of sorption equipment. Advanced manufacturing techniques are under development that promote the construction of heat transfer surfaces that are more efficient and allow for greater process integration. Finally, novel equipment designs that take advantage of technologies not previously pursued for gas separation (eg. rapid expansion of high pressure gases facilitating cryogenic separation) are being investigated. This approach would result in very significant size, and thus capital cost, reduction.

Please tell us about the [Symposium Topic] symposium you chair at the TechConnect World Innovation Conference. What topics are you focusing on, who are the invited speakers?

We have a diverse range of topics for our symposium, including capture systems employing advanced solvent systems, solid sorbent-based systems, and membrane-based approaches for industrial systems and for pre-combustion and post-combustion power generation. Utilization approaches including production of fuels and materials such as carbonates will also be presented. We are excited to have Dr. Kevin O’Brien, Director of the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center, and Dr. Carl Bauer, Board Member of the University of Wyoming’s School of Energy Resources – Energy Resources Council and former Director of the National Energy Technology Laboratory. Dr. O’Brien will discuss CO2 utilization opportunities associated with agriculture and chemicals production using carbon captured from a large pilot-scale test of an advanced solvent-based capture technology. Dr. Bauer will discuss the newly-opened integrated technology center at the University of Wyoming and the opportunities for development and testing of next-generation capture technologies at this facility.

Is there anything else you would like to say about your program at the upcoming TechConnect World Innovation Conference?

Last year in Paris, officials from 195 countries came together and agreed to targets that would limit carbon emissions. CCU is an essential element to help meet those targets. We are excited that TechConnect is providing us an opportunity to showcase technical advancements that can contribute to the deployment of this technology.