Work and operations at our air capture demonstration plant in Squamish are continuing. This video, produced by the Globe & Mail, gives a look at what's going on. -GH.
It has been roughly a year since we broke ground in Squamish, and we now have our full end-to-end air capture demonstration plant up and running. The entire CE team, with the support of our collaborators and suppliers, has been hard at work to make this happen.
The plant is operating, and removes roughly 1 ton of CO2 from the air each day. The CO2 gets processed through all the major sub-systems that will be required to operate a future full-scale commercial plant. As part of this milestone we want to share the progression of our plant coming to life, with a series of photos below.
We'll let the pictures say the rest, we hope you enjoy them. -GH.
Construction and commissioning of CE’s pilot plant is continuing in Squamish, BC. A lot has happened in the last few months, and we now have most of the major equipment at site and installed. A big effort for us in recent weeks has been to bring the “pellet reactor” system online for the first time, and to start growing our bed of pellets – which forms a crucial step in our overall air capture process. We’re going to use this post to describe the how the pellet reactor system works and what it has taken to bring it to life in Squamish.
The core purpose of the pellet reactor system is to take the CO2 that has been absorbed from the air into liquid at the air contactor and transform it into a solid pellet that is then easily dried and sent downstream to the calciner for CO2 release and purification. The system consists of a fluidized bed of pellets – all jostled around (aka fluidized) by slowly upward flowing liquid - where CO2-rich liquid from the air contactor and chemicals are fed into the bottom, a chemical reaction takes place in the bed to precipitate carbonate onto the solid pellets, and CO2-lean liquid leaves from the top where it then heads back to the air contactor to once again absorb CO2. The solid pellets are intermittently discharged, washed and sent to the calciner where the solids are heated to release the CO2, after which the remaining solid chemical is sent back to the pellet reactor system for reuse.
With the way progress is being made on the pellet reactor equipment out at site, one would guess that the equipment has been comfortably in place for months and that progress was smooth and uneventful. This is only because the team of CE staff, contractors and vendors involved in facilitating the fabrication, shipping and install were so adept at delivering quality results on tight, changing schedules. There were certainly challenges worthy of the telling…
Due to the tall, skinny nature of the pellet reactor vessel, coupled with the site’s seismic conditions, the local civil engineering contractor GEA needed to design and install a special foundation for the pellet reactor vessel and skids, complete with anchors already cast into the concrete in permanent position well before the vessel showed up at site and could be checked for accuracy. A hole also had to be cut into the building’s roof to allow us to lift and lower the pellet reactor vessel into its permanent home. These activities needed to be carried out in a matter of weeks, not months, and done with accuracy otherwise there would be significant delays and rework. The team managed to successfully choreograph these tight moves and the pellet reactor vessel was the first major piece of equipment visible at site to prove that we were one step closer to scubbing CO2. This was cause for us to openly boast that while the backdrop of our site was simply breathtaking, the presence of the pellet reactor peeking out from our building was the star attraction.
At this milestone, the team could not rest easy yet – far from it. The skids had to be shuffled into place and lined up so that piping connections could be made. Skids had to be shifted away from their expected locations and orientations in order to allow the much needed forklift access and to ensure safe pathways for the operators to traverse through the plant. This all had to be done without sacrificing function of any of the individual parts or the system as a whole. It also had to be done within days so that the piping and field fabrication crews could finish the remaining process piping connections and supports.
The coordinated multidisciplinary efforts that went into getting the pellet reactor system to jump from the paper design to a real, physically connected part of the pilot at Squamish are hard to envision by simply looking at the site today. The team has by no means retired to the local brewery for a celebratory pint just yet as the other pieces of the plant are still coming together, and we are forging ahead into combined operation of CE’s air contactor and pellet reactor, and then in another week, our calciner arrives and another chapter of the story unfolds.
We’d like to thank all the contractors and partners involved in bringing the pellet reactor to life, including:
CE's site crew, Lee's Fabrication, Faith Technologies, Aggressive Metals, Transgroup Shipping, Procorp group (Nick Vollendorf, Colleen Korklewski, Rob Brillhart), Channel Fabricators, Ray Johnson Plumbing & Heating, and GEA.
Construction is deep under way at our Squamish demo plant site. The CE team has been working toward getting the air scrubber and pellet reactor installed these past two months. We call this the “wet end” of the plant, since both components circulate liquid, to scrub CO2 from the air and then concentrate the product in solid calcium carbonate pellets, respectively. Once this “wet end” is up and running, we’ll install the remaining equipment, known as the “hot end” of the plant. These parts of our system work in conjunction, with the “hot end” processing the solid pellets to produce pure CO2 (our end product) while re-making the original capture chemical to begin the cycle again.
For now, installing the “wet end” equipment is a full time job for the CE team, with focus on piping and installation of valves and meters, constructing the electrical power supply system, wiring up instruments and sensors, and getting ready to bring the equipment online step by step. This demo plant is by far our biggest project yet, and we've had great luck in recruiting talented and dedicated personnel to our team to help do the job. We now have several full-time staff on site in Squamish, who are bringing project management, construction, operations, and fabrication experience to the project.
Project partner SPX Cooling Technologies has delivered amazing support and service in building the air scrubber at our site. Their team – experts in building high performance and low cost air handling equipment – has built CE’s biggest scrubber yet. It’s 10 times bigger than the prototype that we ran in 2011-2012 and is built from far more economical parts and equipment that we can eventually use at large commercial scale. SPX’s site superintendents are shown below, in front of the first ever SPX/CE air scrubber.
On the pellet reactor system, Aggressive Metals and Faith Electrical have delivered several equipment skids that CE is now connecting and installing. The main pellet reactor vessel is over 40 feet tall, and the auxiliary support equipment is equally impressive to see in person. All of the pellet reactor system has been designed to be highly flexible during operation, and to allow detailed observation of performance. CE is going to test new operating methods on this equipment, that we think will optimize the pellet production rate and energy use. But in order to do that, we need the ability to monitor conditions throughout the reactor (hence a multitude of sample collection ports and instrument ports), and the ability to manage unwanted particles or products that are generated as we stress-test different operating modes. Building this flexibility into the pellet reactor has resulted in a fairly sophisticated set of equipment, shown below.
Everyone here at CE is enjoying having our equipment and plant come together, it’s a great pay-off to actually see the system come together after the long hours spent in engineering and design phases in order to get this far. And in fact, for a few of us on the team, we've been working on this concept for over 5 years now, and to see our system being built at this scale is incredibly satisfying. Next, in the coming months, the real fun begins when we flip the switches and start scrubbing CO2.
The installation of our demonstration plant in Squamish is now well underway. Site preparation and concrete pouring for equipment foundations started in January and are now complete. In the past several weeks, major pieces pre-fabricated equipment – including the Air Contactor and Pellet Reactor – have arrived. And we are now assembling and installing this equipment at site.
This phase of the project has required a fine attention to operational details, and has already involved a number of local contractors and service providers who have been very responsive and efficient. Now that we have our site ready, and are starting equipment installation, we’d like to say “thank you” to the businesses that have helped us get everything in place in such short order.
Here’s our CE thank you to:
- Bethel Land Corporation
- GEA Structural Engineering
- Butler Brothers
- All-terrain Excavating
- Cardinal Concrete
- Full-throttle Reinforcement
- Pipeline Plumbing and Heating
- Seat-to-sky Fire Prevention
- 99 Transport and Crane Service
- Channel Fabricators
- GeoPacific Geotechnical Engineers
- Metro Testing Laboratories Ltd.
- Hemmera Environmental
- The Rental Network Ltd.
- Garibaldi Graphics
We’re also deeply thankful to the City of Squamish, whose continued support of the project is of great value. Over the next few months, we’ll be hard at work continuing the installation of major equipment, and performing the piping and electrical tasks to knit it all together. We look forward to working with more of the local contractors here in Squamish.
-SB & GH.
The CE team is excited to have broken ground on our new pilot demonstration project this week in Squamish, BC. For the past year, we've been working diligently on financing and engineering our most ambitious hardware demonstration project yet. We are now entering the construction phase of our full end-to-end demonstration plant.
This demo plant (aka pilot plant) will come online later this year, and will scrub CO2 directly from the atmosphere into our liquid capture solution. It will then process this solution over a series of steps to produce purified CO2, and at the same time, re-make the original capture chemical. Our plant will produce a concentrated stream of CO2 and water vapour, which we will then vent. We're calling this a "catch and release" project, which will prove that we can do all the difficult technical steps of capturing CO2 out of the air.
From the data we gain while running this plant, we'll then be able to reliably design a larger "first of a kind" commercial plant, which will actually use the captured CO2 to produce low-carbon fuels. Key to the success of this demonstration plant, we have designed the hardware in conjunction with the key industrial partners who will supply full commercial-scale equipment for each of the main sub-systems within our technology. Together, we'll take data from this demonstration plant, and use it to trouble-shoot and optimize the equipment before we move on to a full commercial plant.
Breaking ground at our Squamish site represents a major achievement in this project, signifying that we have completed the engineering and design of our plant, and are now ready to have major equipment arrive at site for installation over the next few months.
We're excited to move into the next phase of this project with the full support of our industrial partners, the funding agencies who have contributed to this effort, and the help of the Squamish community.
We are thrilled at the recent publication of a Harvard Business School case study centered on Carbon Engineering. We have been working with HBS Professor Joseph Lassiter and case writer Sid Misra for the past few months as they pulled this case together, and it has been an enriching experience from start to finish.
Joseph and Sid wrote a thoughtful assessment of both the environmental and economic needs that motivate CE’s technology and business development strategies, a detailed snapshot of where CE sits as a company at this point in time, and a summary of the challenges and opportunities that will shape our next few years of work commercializing our direct air capture technology.
CE members David Keith and Geoffrey Holmes travelled to Cambridge Massachusetts for the inaugural teaching of the CE case at Harvard Business School (pictured below) and were pleasantly surprise to find the class attended by former President of Mexico, Felipe Calderón, as well as top-level energy executives from around the world.
The case study can be found, and purchased, here: Harvard Business School Case Study – Carbon Engineering.
Our “Outdoor Contactor” prototype successfully wrapped operations this past October. After our initial run in the summer/fall of 2011, a big goal for us this year was to log performance data in a continuous, long-term operation mode. It took a lot of effort from the whole team to achieve this goal, but in the end we were very happy with both the operation and the performance of the outdoor contactor. (See the first image below for our aggregated long-term data) We spent a lot of time in summer/fall 2012 operating in our proprietary "pulsed liquid flow" mode, where we only periodically supply the packing material with our CO2-absorbent liquid. This allows us to cut our pumping work and pressure drop, which in turn reduce our energy usage, while retaining the majority of our full CO2 capture rate. (The second image below illustrates roughly one day of our pulsed flow operation) In fall of 2012, we were able to conduct a whole battery of sensitivity experiments with the outdoor contactor, to quantify our CO2 absorption response to liquid flow rate, solution conditions, and air velocity. And now, by mining our long term dataset, we are building up quantitative responses to the environmental variables - like temperature, humidity, or wind speed - that slowly varied while we ran in steady state. One interesting example of this is shown in the third image (below), which correlates temperature and inlet air CO2 concentration versus the time of day for roughly one month of data. The viewer can see that during the sunny mid-day and afternoon hours, where temperature is commonly at its maximum, the CO2 in our inlet air is at a minimum due the draw-down from the vegetation around our site. During the night, when the plants stop consuming CO2 by photosynthesis, the CO2 concentration rises. The successful long-term operation of our contactor prototype has given us real validation of our contactor design. We are now turning our sights to our upcoming end-to-end pilot plant of our full air capture system! -GH.
We are happy to announce that Carbon Engineering has been selected for inclusion in the most recent round of grant funding from the Climate Change and Emissions Management Corporation (CCEMC). This grant will be used to fund our upcoming end-to-end pilot plant, which we are currently designing for operation in late-2014. This pilot will demonstrate our proprietary direct air capture technology, and will be built with representative vendor-supplied hardware that will form the design basis for subsequent full-scale plants.
CCEMC is an Alberta-based not-for-profit, independent organization with a mandate to expand climate change knowledge, develop new ‘clean’ technologies and explore practical ways of implementing them. CCEMC’s focus is to enhance the value of energy resources, conserve and use energy efficiently and support green energy production. Media Release: CCEMC to announce funding for 13 small and medium sized businesses
We are excited to have the support of CCEMC as we move forward on our pilot plant. -GH.
From Mar07-08, the University of Calgary’s Institute for Sustainable Energy, Environment, and Economy hosted the first ever “Direct Air Capture Summit” (DACS). Carbon Engineering co-sponsored this event, and helped to organize it. DACS was conceived with a mission of gathering leading thinkers and stakeholders from within and around the air capture field for two days of technical, business, and environmental discussions.
We were excited to have numerous distinguished attendees at DACS, including:
- Rob Socolow, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ
- Peter Eisenberger, Global Thermostat, New York, NY
- Christopher Jones, Georgia Tech, Atlanta, GA
- Michael Desmond, BP, Chicago, IL
- Sasha Mackler, Summit Power Group, Seattle, WA
- Anthony Galasso, Boeing Phantom Works, Seal Beach, CA
- David Hawkins, Natural Resources Defense Council, Washington, DC
- David Keith, Carbon Engineering and Harvard University, Calgary, AB
- Oliver Morton, The Economist, London, UK
- Tim Fox, UK Institution of Mechanical Engineers, London, UK
- Steven Hamburg, Environmental Defense Fund, Washington, DC
The two day event featured lectures and panel sessions on the current technical state-of-art, research frontiers, air capture cost assessment, near-term market niches, and regulatory issues. The event also featured technical break-out groups, an update on the Virgin Earth Challenge, and a technical poster session. After the conference wrap-up, Carbon Engineering hosted an “Open House” for all interested summit participants, to cover recent technical developments at CE, to open the books on cost assessments of our conservative baseline air capture system.
The overwhelming perspective of participants, and shared by all of us at CE, is that DACS was an enjoyable and successful event. We were all excited by the productive dialogue that occurred on key issues, by the exciting ideas and perspectives shared, and by the prospects for our nascent air capture community.
From all of us at CE, thank you to those who attended DACS and made it a great event. -GH
We have had a very successful season with our outdoor contactor prototype. After our installation and start-up procedures in August, we were able to accumulate well over 500 hours of air ingestion as we progressed through packing conditioning and CO2 absorption stages. In October, we were able to run un-interrupted CO2 absorption - with our regeneration system maintaining equilibrium liquid conditions - for several days at a time. We have much more long-duration testing scheduled for next summer, but we all feel like we’ve gained a great deal of practical experience already. We’ve operated our contactor through hot summer weather, dusty fall days, and even sub-freezing nights – and thus far, our performance data is very encouraging. We have exciting results on several of the key aspects that we designed this prototype to test:
- We were able to control the quantity of “drift” (small liquid droplets in the outflow air) to roughly 5% of the health and safety restriction for indoor respiration! We did this with careful deployment of commercial drift eliminators and a few of our own contactor design innovations.
- We validated our patented “pulsed flow” operation method for air contacting. So far we have been able to reduce fluid pumping requirements by a factor of 10 (with respect to continuous flow) while retaining over 80% of maximum CO2 capture.
- We’ve confirmed the low frictional resistance (pressure drop) of our air contactor and the advanced packing we’re using. On a per-surface-area basis, our advanced packing offers less than half the resistance of traditional steel packing products from gas scrubber columns!
- We have measured CO2 absorption rate at temperatures ranging from below 0 C to over 25 C, and achieved multiple days of continuous operation on several occasions.
- Thus far, no major performance reductions have been observed from the build-up of atmospheric contaminants in our liquid. We aim to gather more data on this effect over several months next year.
We are now taking our prototype off-line for the winter; we have a lot of analysis and refinement to implement from this summer’s efforts, and we have our many other projects to advance over the coming months. Next spring we will begin further operation of our prototype, and we are even hoping to test the completely new, low-energy regeneration system that we have been working on! -GH.
All of us at Carbon Engineering are very excited to have been short-listed for the Virgin Earth Challenge this month! Dr. Alan Knight, VEC Director, was recently in Calgary for a press release to announce that further showcasing of the prize and its competitors would occur at Calgary’s Global Clean Energy Congress in November. Dr. Knight also revealed that Carbon Engineering is the only Canadian entry among the roughly ten remaining competitors for the prize. These competitors have been selected over a multi-year review process, from an initial pool of over 2600 applicants. The Virgin Earth Challenge was formed in 2007 by Sir Richard Branson, as a $25 million prize to incentivize the necessary innovation and development to allow direct removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The VEC website states:
“The Virgin Earth Challenge is US$25 million for whoever can demonstrate to the judges' satisfaction a commercially viable design which results in the net removal of anthropogenic, atmospheric greenhouse gases so as to contribute materially to the stability of the Earth's climate system.”
We are thrilled to be a part of this challenge, and to be recognized for our efforts in commercializing large-scale and cost-effective direct air capture technology. Our company President, David Keith, has been working and publishing in this field for over a decade now, and a number of our technical team employees have dedicated full-time hours (and overtime hours too) to air capture for over three years. It’s great to see the public visibility and business interest that is building in direct air capture technology. Plus, according to our specific instructions from the Virgin Group, we are now permitted to refer to ourselves as “Virgin Earth Challenge Air Capture Gurus”. Virgin’s sense of humour is icing on the cake! -GH.
July and August 2011 have been very exciting months here at CE! For the past year, one of our principal efforts as a team has been the design, engineering, and fabrication of our “Outdoor Contactor” (OC) prototype. The OC has been designed to test critical aspects of our full-scale air contactor design, and to gain us the operational experience in running our device outdoors in the harsh spectrum of weather we will see over several seasons here in Alberta. On July 27, the OC was delivered to our test site, and at 20+ tons, the delivery required a flat-bed truck, flag cars, and two large cranes. With the OC in place, we are now working on start-up procedures and water-testing, and we are aiming to capture “first CO2” from the air by end of month. The primary component of interest on our OC is the air contactor, which forces air through a “structured packing” material full of numerous air-flow channels that distribute our CO2-absorbing liquid (sodium hydroxide plus additives) into a large surface area of liquid film. This absorbent sodium hydroxide film reacts with atmospheric CO2 passing through the channels to form sodium carbonate, which is flushed off the packing and collects in the OC basin. The OC also has the ability to chemically react this sodium carbonate and filter out our captured CO2 which by this point is fixed in the form of a wet limestone powder that we can safely and cheaply dispose of. In the "calcium cycle" variant of our full-scale air capture design, this limestone powder will instead be processed to liberate pure pipe-line quality CO2 and regenerate the original capture solution. Carbon Engineering’s air contactor technology has been based on designs used in both the cooling tower and gas scrubber industries, and also embodies many of our own proprietary innovations. Since nobody has yet used this combination of technologies to scrub CO2 from atmospheric air for long durations of time, our OC has been built to test and explore the key technical risks in our design. Our OC device has been built with dimensions and components selected to replicate the “smallest representative unit” of our full-scale modular air contactor design, so that we can gain the most relevant operational experience and performance estimates. The key technical risks that we are examining with our OC are:
- Successful control of “drift” with best-in-class “Drift Eliminators” supplied by our partner in the cooling tower supply industry. “Drift” refers to the small liquid droplets that can be present in the air flow from a gas-liquid contactor, and which would contain sodium hydroxide in our design. Successful drift elimination is the key to operating our contactor in a way that does not pose health and safety risks to people nearby.
- Long term performance trends, in the absorption performance of our liquid solution, in the frictional air resistance (or “pressure drop”) of our structured packing, and in the fraction of packing surface that stays wetted under long-duration low-flow operation.
- Effects on operability and on absorption performance by ingested atmospheric particulates - such as fine particulate matter, soot, dust and silica, and biological debris such as leaves or insects.
We are enjoying these weeks of real field engineering and look forward to updating our site further as we work towards "first CO2". -GH