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.