Bio associate professor’s carbon-capture proposal nets Fast Track Award
Effective and affordable carbon-capture and storage technology for fossil fuel power plants is a research area of intense and broad current investigation as scientists look for solutions to reduce greenhouse gasses because of the detrimental role they play in climate change.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “The combustion of fossil fuels to generate electricity is the largest single source of CO2 emissions in the nation, accounting for about 37 percent of total U.S. CO2 emissions and 30 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2014.”
MU bioengineering Associate Professor William Jacoby has been exploring the possibility of tackling the problem with the development of a high pressure, density-driven separator (HDS) in his lab, the Mizzou Carbon Recycling Center. This spring, he received support from the UM System to develop his carbon capture and storage solution with a 2016 Fast Track Award for his project, “Separation of Carbon Dioxide from Flue Gas.”
Flue gas consists of about13 percent carbon dioxide, 77 percent nitrogen, 5 percent oxygen, 5 percent water and some trace elements. The Carbon Recycling Center’s HDS uses very high pressure (less than 80 atmospheres) and ambient temperature to completely separate carbon dioxide from the other vapors.
“Our process produces near-pure CO2 at high pressure,” Jacoby said. “This enables efficient transport via pipeline for direct deep well injection, manufacture of carbonated beverages and stimulation of growth in commercial greenhouses.”
He said a well-established, billion-dollar market already exists for CO2, which historically sells for around $100 per ton.
Jacoby and his research assistant Reza Espanani have demonstrated the effectiveness and efficiency of the process in the lab and will collaborate with MU’s Combined Heat and Power Plant to collect flue gas samples and design a small-scale pilot separator for use at the plant to test the geometric and fluid parameters, and fluid handling of the HDS unit. They also have developed a “new dimensionless parameter” for operation of the technology and are confident in its scalability.
“When I first talked to Dr. Jacoby, I saw that what he is working on is directly applicable to the power generation industry and what we are doing given the future regulatory requirements of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan. That’s where I saw opportunity and potential,” said Jim Wilbur, managing engineer at the MU Power Plant. “In order to meet these regulations, we have to rely on research that is taking place and if it proves viable, this would certainly be an option.
“We strive to collaborate with students and faculty on their projects on campus when possible,” Wilbur added.
Jacoby estimates that the HDS can operate at one-third the cost of projected state-of-the-art technologies, or just 16 percent of fossil fuel plants’ operating costs, compared to nearly half with the most promising projected technologies.
“In addition to the moral imperative to curtail climate change for future generations, the magnitude of the economic opportunity is enormous,” Jacoby said, citing an estimate by the Climate Change Business Journal that the commercial potential of fitting 60 percent of U.S coal-fueled power plants with carbon capture and storage technology would be a $50 billion business.
“Currently there are 1,522 coal-burning power plants operating in the USA, and thousands more operate around the world,” Jacoby said.
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