The Next Generation of Activated Carbon Adsorbents for the Pre-Combustion Capture of CO2

Lead Research Organisation: University of Nottingham
Department Name: Division of Energy and Sustainability


The vision of the proposed research is to develop activated carbon adsorbents and system models to improve the efficiency, flexibility and operability of IGCC processes . Novel activated carbon (AC) adsorbents prepared from resin precursors have the ability to be tailored to control both their CO2 adsorption capacity and isotherm shape. As a result, they offer significant advantages over solvent-based systems for the pre-combustion capture of CO2 in integrated combined cycle gasification (IGCC) processes in terms of cost and flexibility. The research will focus on gaining a fundamental understanding of how the porosity and surface functionality of resin-derived carbons, both in bead and monolith forms, controls their CO2 adsorption under actual process conditions in the presence of moisture and other gases. It is likely to achieve high CO2 removals in IGCC, more than one bed will be needed operating at different pressures. As a result adsorbents displaying high uptakes at low partial pressures (<5 bar) of CO2 will also be investigated. Indeed adsorbents displaying high uptakes at low partial pressures will also find applications in post-combustion capture and selectively removing CO2 from blast furnace gas during iron making. In parallel, the project will also consider how the unique performance of the AC sorbents for CO2 capture will improve the operability of IGCC power plants. Comparisons of emissions, resource requirements and costs with varying levels on CO2 removal via adsorption will be made on a systematic basis allowing different design options and control strategies to be devised, in order to minimise the effects of CO2 capture upon the overall process efficiency. In the research programme, the results from the first theme on the efficacy of the various ACs will be used as the design basis in the second theme on modelling the performance of IGCC plants. The proposal brings the balanced expertise together from five academic institutes to increase our understanding of AC adsorbents for pre-combustion capture and how they will improve the operability and flexibility of IGCC plants. The internationally recognized capability for CO2 adsorbents and power plant control at Nottingham and Birmingham and the complementary stengths of the Institute Coal Chemistry (ICC) and Tsinghau Univeristy make it logical for the partners to combine their strengths to address more effective capture of CO2 in IGCC and the implications of this on overall plant operation. Regarding the Chinese partners, Tsinghua have studied the IGCC process for over 10 years and they have developed the first complete simplified IGCC dynamical mathematical model and simulation program). ICC CAS have been involved in may aspects of gasification and are already working with the UoN on active carbons for post-combustion capture (ICUK award). In relation to the Call, this proposal addresses both:(i) New technologies based on material advances(ii) Modelling and simulation and of capture plants employing the advanced materials

Planned Impact

The consortium integrates expertise in both theoretical modelling and experimental development of carbon capture technologies, coupled with industrial demonstration and interaction. This provides an ideal multidisciplinary and international environment for enhancing the skills set of the postdoctoral RA and for training the PhD students working on the project. The specific skills gained from the project are highly desirable for the increasingly important market of low-carbon technologies, where employment opportunities exist in power companies, government agencies and academia. The project contributes directly to an effective technology to mitigate environmental and energy security concerns. One of the stumbling blocks to the widespread implementation of CCS is the energy cost associated with solvent regeneration in first generation absorption technologies. Hence, alternative technologies need to be investigated that have the potential to lower this energy penalty and also have lower capital and operating costs. The proposed project offers a low-cost and high-capacity solution for overcoming these drawbacks in the increasingly important pre-combustion CC technology sector. More specifically, the developed adsorbents can be rapidly scaled up by industrial collaborators to speed up the technology transfer process. System modelling methodologies in a software package can be adapted to consider individual system conditions to optimise the efficiency of carbon capture and the performance of the overall power plant. The adsorbent system and the software package will be of interest to companies with interests in power generation and carbon capture, such as Doosan Babcock and Corus in the UK and Wison Engineering Ltd, Lu'an Group and Shaxi Xinhua Chemical Corp in China (See the letters of support attached from these companies), as well as Jacobs Engineering, UK, who have carried out earlier studies of gasification assessment. The proposal is particularly relevant in terms of the proposed IGCC demonstrations in the UK, including Hatfield that has secured EU backing and the proposed Tees Valley project. Within the consortium we already have excellent links and proven working relationship between the groups, through two UK-China collaborative projects, on which this research will build. We hope to actively engage the industrial supporters with regular news briefings and discuss opportunities for timely scale-up and demonstration. We intend that all participants will be involved in dissemination to some degree. The Principal/Co-Investigators will supervise the publications and co-author papers with the other researchers, giving plenary and keynote addresses at conferences, participating in visits to China and giving media interviews. All academic members of the consortium have a strong track record of publishing technical papers in international, peer reviewed, journals, and presenting at international conferences. The groups also have experience of organising high profile events in both the UK and China, for example the University of Nottingham activities at Expo 2010 in Shanghai ( .aspx) where an energy day will be co-organised with the Shanghai Applied Research Institute, CAS and will involve the first cohort of EngDs from the Centre for Doctoral Training in Efficient Fossil Energy technologies.


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Description New carbon materials have been developed to capture both CO2 in gasification and combustion processes. Our research effort focussed on carbon beads whose size can be varied to suit particular processes. The carbon beads with appropriate treatments gave superior performance to other activated carbons and stability over long operating periods. The performance of the beads in pressure swing adsorption was successfully modelled, together with incorporating PSA into overall gasification processes. The successful completion of this project has led to further research, including developing lower-cost alternatives to the carbon beads and scaling these up for pllot-scale demonstration.
Exploitation Route The research on carbon beads for both pre- and post-combustion capture has acted as a springboard for investigating many related carbons, including our own work on carbons derived from waste where microporosity is maximised for CO2 adsorption. We are now scaling-up the most effective carbons to produce 10 kg batches for testing at a pilot-scale, with funding from the Korean Institute of Energy. .
Sectors Energy

Description The development of activated carbon beads for CO2 capture in this project has led to other applications for environmental control being identified which are being presued in discussion with commercial partners.
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Energy
Impact Types Societal,Economic

Description Korean Government
Amount ₩240,000,000 (KRW)
Organisation Korea Institute of Energy Research 
Sector Academic/University
Country Korea, Republic of
Start 09/2015 
End 08/2018
Description Joint University of Nottingham-Shanghai Advanced Research Institute (SARI ) Low Carbon Energy Research Centre 
Organisation Chinese Academy of Sciences
Department Shanghai Advanced Research Institute (SARI)
Country China 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Since 2009, Nottingham and SARI have collaborated on two EPSRC China grants on developing new adsorbents for CO2 capture, both for post and pre-combustion. The research has resulted in a number of joint publications and has led to Colin Snape being appointed as a Distinguished Visiting Professor at SARI in January 2014 and to the signing MoU signed in September 2014 for joint development of adsorbent technology for CO2 capture, leading to the formation of the Joint Centre in 2015. Nottingham is covering the costs of researchers visiting SARI to taker forward collaborative research on CO2 capture, biomass/waste conversion with microwave technology
Collaborator Contribution Covering the costs to send researchers to the University of Nottingham to work on collaborative research.
Impact Joint publications already listed.
Start Year 2015