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Jon LeSage is a California-based journalist covering clean vehicles, alternative energy, and economic and regulatory trends shaping the automotive, transportation, and mobility sectors.

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ExxonMobil & Berkeley Make Major Breakthrough In Carbon Capture Tech

One of the world’s oil giants sees carbon capture and sequestration as a smart pathway for hitting a number of targets.

Scientists from ExxonMobil, University of California, Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have discovered a new material that could capture more than 90 percent of carbon dioxide emissions from industrial sources. It would help natural gas-fired power plants and other industries meet increasingly stringent carbon emissions rules.

It's a breakthrough in a collaboration that's been eight years in the making between ExxonMobil and its two partners. The patent-pending materials, known as tetraamine-functionalized metal organic frameworks, capture carbon dioxide emissions up to six times more effectively than conventional amine-based carbon capture technology. The technology uses low-temperature steam, requiring less energy for the overall carbon capture process.

Needing less energy to capture, remove, and sequester (or store) can bring down the cost quite a bit. It also opens the door for the technology to eventually support commercial applications.

Their innovative carbon capture method remains stable in the presence of water vapor, without oxidation, allowing carbon dioxide to be captured from various sources, under a number of conditions.

The ability to manipulate the structure of metal organs framework materials has allowed the team to condense a surface area the size of a football field into just one gram of mass. It then becomes a sponge for capturing carbon emissions.

“This innovative hybrid porous material has so far proven to be more effective, requires less heating and cooling, and captures more CO2 than current materials,” said Vijay Swarup, vice president of research and development at ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Company. Related: Oil Markets Face New Glut As OPEC Prepares To Open The Taps

Timing is right as carbon capture provides companies with a faster and more cost-effective strategy in hitting internal and government-mandated targets. Carbon capture and sequestration allows carbon dioxide from power-plant combustion and other industrial sources that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere to be captured, compressed, and injected underground for safe, secure, and permanent storage. Carbon capture and sequestration can capture up to 90 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions produced from the use of fossil fuels in power generation and industrial processes.

ExxonMobil claims to have about one-fifth of the world’s total carbon capture capacity. The company captures about 7 million tons per year of carbon. This has been in place since 1970, and the company claims to have captured more CO2 than any other company — more than 40 percent of cumulative CO2 captured.

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) took off in the 2000s as a way to capture emissions from coal-fired power plant generation — back when it was the largest source of power for America’s electricity grid. Being tied to coal as it became less popular, and being slower in global adoption than predicted, have been real challenges for backers of the technology.

More recently, CCS has benefited from developers finding a much wider application base. It’s considered to be the only technology that can deliver deep emissions reductions in hard-to-abate industrial sectors such as steel, fertilizer, and cement. Decarbonizing these sectors can be tough. Electrifying them with zero-carbon power isn’t nearly enough. Their processes require either carbon in their chemistry or high heat input, neither of which come from electricity.

ExxonMobil and its partners, along with many other players in the carbon capture business, have seen several problems inherent in the current, typical carbon extraction and storage protocols. Power plants usually strip carbon from flue emissions by bubbling flue gases through organic animes in water, which can then bind and extract the carbon dioxide. That liquid is then heated to 120-150C (250-300F) to release the CO2 gas. The extracted liquids can then be re-used.

One of the inefficiencies is how much energy the old procedure takes. The entire process consumes about 30 percent of the power generated. ExxonMobil and its two partners are selling the new technology on cost savings and the wide array of industries it can service.

By Jon LeSage for Oilprice.com

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