Multi-stimuli Responsive Smart Hydrogels for Energy-Efficient CO2 capture

Lead Research Organisation: University of Nottingham
Department Name: Faculty of Engineering

Abstract

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) has widely been considered, both globally and in the UK, as a crucial part of global low carbon energy portfolio required to control the rise in global mean temperature below 2 degree C above pre-industrial levels. CCS is the only technology available that can achieve deep reductions in carbon emissions from both power generation and industrial processes in the short-to-medium term, with carbon capture representing the first and most costly single element of the whole CCS chain. Aqueous amine scrubbing at its various forms is currently the best available technology and has been demonstrated at various scales. However, despite the intensive developments at various scales over recent years, its large energy penalty, equivalent up to 20% of a typical power plant output, still remains a major performance barrier. Clearly, new cost-effective and energy-efficient capture concepts leading to substantial reductions in energy penalty need to be explored.

Prompted by recent research in areas of thermo-responsive hydrogels which has led to successful applications in advanced target separations, this proposal aims to develop a new concept of CO2 scrubbing with photo-thermo dual-responsive smart hydrogels, which is expected to be substantially more energy-efficient than amine scrubbing. In this new capture concept, functionalised smart hydrogels, which are mechno-chemically responsive to both heat and sunlight radiation, are used as the absorbent for CO2 capture. The rapid response of the hydrogels to heat and/or light combined with the induced pH swing can facilitate rapid sorbent regeneration/CO2 recovery under much milder conditions. It is anticipated that the temperature swing range for sorbent regeneration can be narrowed to as low as 20-30 degree C, from ca. 70-90 degree C for amine scrubbing. More importantly, the photo-thermo dual-responsive hydrogels-based CO2 capture could potentially make it possible to make use of low grade heat and/or sunlight or solar radiation to drive the CO2 capture system. The major objectives include:
(i) To develop photo-thermal dual responsive hydrogels with high reversible CO2 absorption capacities and favourable volume phase transition behaviours;
(ii) To characterise the physicochemical properties and the CO2 absorption/desorption characteristics of different dual-responsive hydrogels under various temperature swing and light radiation conditions to identify the best-performing smart hydrogels for CO2 capture.
(iii) Once the optimal hydrogels have been identified, scale-up production of the hydrogels will be carried out to perform cyclic CO2 scrubbing tests with the smart hydrogels, using the purpose-designed lab-scale film and column absorbers under different thermal swing conditions with and without light radiation at variable intensities. The test results will be used to assess the feasibility of this new CO2 scrubbing concept to facilitate further development and scale-up of the technology.

Planned Impact

The novel research idea has received the strong support of leading industrial partners relevant to the research field, including a UK power generator (Uniper Technologies Limited), a world leading technical consultancy firm (WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff) and a world leading company in speciality chemicals and sustainable technologies (Johnson Matthey).
This project aims to develop and assess a new concept of CO2 capture that is much more energy efficient than the state of art PCC capture technologies. In addition, the novel CO2 capture process can be driven by low grade heat and/or light and this makes it suitable for applications to not only the power sector, industrial processes but also direct air capture. The successful delivery of the proposed project objectives will enable the research team and partners to lead the future demonstration and commercialisation of this game-changing capture technology. Therefore, in the longer term, this will bring new job and export opportunities to the UK, benefiting the UK society and the general public irrespective of whether the UK adopts CCS in the future.

The know-hows acquired in this project for the smart hydrogels will also be of direct benefit to researchers in the areas of CCS, nanomaterials, nanocomposites and polymers chemistry, power generation and energy industries, energy policy makers/regulators, environmental organisations and government departments such as Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy. In addition to the Research Fellow appointed on the project, other researchers and PhD students within the Doctorate Training Centres in CCS and Cleaner Fossil Energy and the Energy Technology Research Institute of the University of Nottingham can also benefit from the multidisciplinary research project through attending the organised project meetings, seminars and workshops. These researchers, whether directly or indirectly trained on the project, will provide high quality expertise for the UK CCS, hydrogels, nano-materials, nano-composites and polymers chemistry research communities and energy industry, and contribute to leading further demonstration and deployment of the novel capture technology in the UK and other parts of the world.

The project team will commence various activities of engagement with academic colleagues, UK CCS network members and carbon capture technology developers. The dissemination of the research outcomes will be achieved through 6-monthly project meetings with the participation of industrial partners and other key CCS stakeholders, presentations at national and international conferences, UK CCS research network meetings, and open access journal paper publications. High impact journals such as Energy & Environmental Science, Environmental Science & Technology and Chemical Science and high quality international conferences such as the American Chemical Society International Conferences and RSc Faraday Discussion Meetings will be targeted for the publications and presentations of the first results of this feasibility study.

Communications with industrial and other stakeholders will be also pursued via 1) networking activities with the existing national/international project partners of the project team and DTCs; Website; close engagement with the UK CCS Research Centre and the Nottingham-led DTCs in CCS and Cleaner Fossil Energy, in particular, making presentations at the UK CCSRC's bi-annuals and DTC's Winter Conferences; and Exhibition and demonstration at Nottingham's public engagement event ('Wonder 2017' and/or 'Wonder 2018').

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description Carbon capture and storage (CCS) has widely been considered as the only technology available that can achieve deep reductions in carbon emissions from both power generation and industrial processes in the short-to-medium term. Amine-scrubbing is currently the state-of-art technology, which can facilitate high capture efficiencies and produce high purity of CO2 streams ready for storage and/or utilisation. However, despite the intensive developments at various scales over recent years, the high energy penalty, equivalent up to 20% of a typical power plant output, and CAPEX and OPEX requirements as well as a range of associated environmental and operational issues have been the well-known hard-to-overcome performance barriers. Clearly, new cost-effective and energy-efficient capture concepts leading to substantial reductions in energy penalty need to be explored.

This research aims to explore a new concept of energy-smart carbon technology by using photo-thermo dual-responsive smart hydrogels, which is expected to be substantially more energy-efficient than amine scrubbing. In this new concept, functionalised smart hydrogels, which are mechno-chemically responsive to both heat and sunlight radiation, are used as the absorbent for CO2 capture. The rapid response of the hydrogels to heat and light combined with the induced pH swing can facilitate rapid sorbent regeneration/CO2 recovery under much milder conditions, a process that can be potentially fully powered by sunlight. Although the research is still at its early stage, a range of CO2-active photo-thermo dual responsive hydrogels with fast responses to heat and sunlight have been successfully synthesised and tested, and the early results suggest that a smart hydrogel-based CO2 capture system could be potentially fully driven by sunlight without additional external energy input, given the high temperature swing range of up to 60 oC of the CO2-active hydrogels achieved upon solar irradiation at a moderate density of circa 0.264 Watt/cm2. Moreover, the responsive hydrogels also showed high stability over several solar irradiation on-off cycles.
Exploitation Route Too early to say as the research is still at early stage
Sectors Chemicals,Energy,Environment,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology

 
Description The research involves the design and synthesis of photo, thermal and photo-thermo dual-responsive hydrogels for CO2 capture powered by sunlight or solar energy. However, the impact of the research outcomes go beyond the areas of carbon capture and storage as the smart hydrogels can also find wide pharmaceutical and biomedical applications. For instance, the hydrogels can be used to obtain a photo and/or thermal responsive drug delivery system in which an external irradiation with either a source of heat or light will release a drug from a reservoir, thus enabling different release kinetics of the drug at given regulated temperatures to facilitate more effective targeted treatment. Although the research is still at its early stages, it is reasonably believed that the new knowledge and skills as a result of this research has contributed to Dr Bin Yang securing the senior scientist position in AstraZeneca, which is global leader in pharmaceutical industry.
Sector Chemicals,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology
Impact Types Societal,Economic

 
Description Teaming up to advance up the development of energy-smart compact carbon-scrubbing technologies 
Organisation UK Carbon Capture & Storage Research Centre
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution The research teams at Nottingham and Edinburgh currently work in closely related but distinctive research areas of carbon capture and storage. The proposed collaborative activities aim to bring together the novel expertise and research resources available at both Universities not only to maximise the research output of each individual research but also to explore the potentials of integrating the two technologies currently under development into a energy-smart and efficient compact system for CO2 capture, thus speeding up the development and demonstration of enabling carbon capture technologies. Clearly, the extra miles to be enabled by this proposed collaboration will make a significant difference to the success of both existing projects with potentials for further collaborative research and technology development opportunities. Particular additional benefits include 1) the vital validation of the pioneering capture concept with the dual responsive hydrogels at a reasonably sensible lab scales, using the facilities available at both Universities which would be otherwise unlikely; and 2) to better understand the CO2-absorptive/desorptive properties and associated degradation behaviour of both amine solvents and hydrogels in microwave and light irradiation conditions. Typical contributions of Nottingham to this collaboration included 1) to provide the partner with access to a range of cutting-edge facilities at Nottingham to aid the characterisation of a variety of samples prepared by the partner; 2) to engage with the partner in designing and synthesising new catalysts for CO2 capture and utilisation; and 3) to design, synthesise and evaluate the microwave absorptive properties of new hydrogels for CO2 capture with microwave-assisted temperature swing absorption/desorption process.
Collaborator Contribution 1) Provision of access to the facilities at Edinburgh University for the performance testing of smart hydrogels developed at Nottingham for CO2 capture in a compact process, particularly the partner's solar simulator and microwave-assisted dual absorption column reactor.
Impact Supported by the UK CCSRC, the primary aim of this collaboration was to test the smart hydrogels synthesised at Nottingham for CO2 capture, using the solar reactor and related facilities at the University of Edinburgh. The following represents a summary of major activities and outcomes: (1) The first vital dataset on the thermo-photo dual responsiveness of a number of responsive hydrogels were obtained from using a purpose-modified solar reactor at the University of Edinburgh, which essentially validated the new concept of solar-driven CO2 capture using responsive hydrogels as the sorbents. The hydrogels showed exceedingly strong visible sunlight absorption and turn the sunlight into heat at high efficiencies, which increased the temperature of the hydrogel solution (20 mg gel/ml) from ambient to 81 oC within 30 mins at a solar density of 0.26 W/cm2 whilst the pH value of the solution decreased from 10 to as low as 8.1. This compared to the solution with no hydrogels where under the same solar radiation conditions, the temperature could only be increased to a maximum of 45 oC with no changes in pH value. This revealed the sound potentials of solar-driven temperature swing CO2 absorption using the responsive hydrogels as being the CO2 sorbent and sunlight absorber. (2) This funding also helped evaluate the microwave regeneration of various CO2 sorbents, and the results indicate that microwave regeneration is more suitable for non-aqueous solvents. Water in solvent solutions results a high energy consumption. (3) Research visits and seminars were arranged to use the research facilities at each partner university and discuss the potential opportunities for collaborations in the areas of CCS and beyond. For instance, the award has already initiated another collaboration between the two research groups at Nottingham and Edinburgh on photo-catalytic conversion of CO2 and glycerol into value-added products, such as glycerol carbonate. (4) The partnership is expected to lead to two joint publications in peer-reviewed top international journals.
Start Year 2017
 
Description Teaming up to advance up the development of energy-smart compact carbon-scrubbing technologies 
Organisation University of Edinburgh
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution The research teams at Nottingham and Edinburgh currently work in closely related but distinctive research areas of carbon capture and storage. The proposed collaborative activities aim to bring together the novel expertise and research resources available at both Universities not only to maximise the research output of each individual research but also to explore the potentials of integrating the two technologies currently under development into a energy-smart and efficient compact system for CO2 capture, thus speeding up the development and demonstration of enabling carbon capture technologies. Clearly, the extra miles to be enabled by this proposed collaboration will make a significant difference to the success of both existing projects with potentials for further collaborative research and technology development opportunities. Particular additional benefits include 1) the vital validation of the pioneering capture concept with the dual responsive hydrogels at a reasonably sensible lab scales, using the facilities available at both Universities which would be otherwise unlikely; and 2) to better understand the CO2-absorptive/desorptive properties and associated degradation behaviour of both amine solvents and hydrogels in microwave and light irradiation conditions. Typical contributions of Nottingham to this collaboration included 1) to provide the partner with access to a range of cutting-edge facilities at Nottingham to aid the characterisation of a variety of samples prepared by the partner; 2) to engage with the partner in designing and synthesising new catalysts for CO2 capture and utilisation; and 3) to design, synthesise and evaluate the microwave absorptive properties of new hydrogels for CO2 capture with microwave-assisted temperature swing absorption/desorption process.
Collaborator Contribution 1) Provision of access to the facilities at Edinburgh University for the performance testing of smart hydrogels developed at Nottingham for CO2 capture in a compact process, particularly the partner's solar simulator and microwave-assisted dual absorption column reactor.
Impact Supported by the UK CCSRC, the primary aim of this collaboration was to test the smart hydrogels synthesised at Nottingham for CO2 capture, using the solar reactor and related facilities at the University of Edinburgh. The following represents a summary of major activities and outcomes: (1) The first vital dataset on the thermo-photo dual responsiveness of a number of responsive hydrogels were obtained from using a purpose-modified solar reactor at the University of Edinburgh, which essentially validated the new concept of solar-driven CO2 capture using responsive hydrogels as the sorbents. The hydrogels showed exceedingly strong visible sunlight absorption and turn the sunlight into heat at high efficiencies, which increased the temperature of the hydrogel solution (20 mg gel/ml) from ambient to 81 oC within 30 mins at a solar density of 0.26 W/cm2 whilst the pH value of the solution decreased from 10 to as low as 8.1. This compared to the solution with no hydrogels where under the same solar radiation conditions, the temperature could only be increased to a maximum of 45 oC with no changes in pH value. This revealed the sound potentials of solar-driven temperature swing CO2 absorption using the responsive hydrogels as being the CO2 sorbent and sunlight absorber. (2) This funding also helped evaluate the microwave regeneration of various CO2 sorbents, and the results indicate that microwave regeneration is more suitable for non-aqueous solvents. Water in solvent solutions results a high energy consumption. (3) Research visits and seminars were arranged to use the research facilities at each partner university and discuss the potential opportunities for collaborations in the areas of CCS and beyond. For instance, the award has already initiated another collaboration between the two research groups at Nottingham and Edinburgh on photo-catalytic conversion of CO2 and glycerol into value-added products, such as glycerol carbonate. (4) The partnership is expected to lead to two joint publications in peer-reviewed top international journals.
Start Year 2017
 
Description UKCCSRC Biannual Conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The Biannual Conference of EPSRC-funded UK Carbon Capture & Storage Research Centre (UK CCSRC) is one of the major events and focal point for both the researchers, industry and business in both the UK and around the world to gather and disseminate their latest research in the general field of carbon capture and storage. The latest research development on carbon capture at Nottingham, including solid adsorbent looping technologies, rejuvenation of degraded amine solvents and CO2 capture with responsive smart hydrogels were disseminated via posters at the biannual event hosted by Sheffield University in September 2019. The biannual conference at Sheffield was attended by over 250 people from academia, industry, business, government and other organisations from both the UK and other countries. The research on photo-thermal dual responsive smart hydrogels for CO2 scrubbing received strong interest from the audience and the UK CCSRC, which led to a Scientific Collaboration Award (£10,000) to Nottingham and Edinburgh university to advance the research in the area.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://ukccsrc.ac.uk/category/keywords/sheffield-programme-biannual-2017