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Innovative Materials and Processes for Advanced Carbon Capture Technologies

IMPACCT's projects seek to develop technologies for existing coal-fired power plants that will lower the cost of carbon capture. Short for "Innovative Materials and Processes for Advanced Carbon Capture Technologies," the IMPACCT program is geared toward minimizing the cost of removing carbon dioxide (CO2) from coal-fired power plant exhaust by developing materials and processes that have never before been considered for this application. Retrofitting coal-fired power plants to capture the CO2 they produce would enable greenhouse gas reductions without forcing these plants to close, shifting away from the inexpensive and abundant U.S. coal supply.
For a detailed technical overview about this program, please click here. 


A High Efficiency Inertial CO2 Extraction System

Researchers at Alliant Techsystems (ATK) and ACENT Laboratories are developing a device that relies on aerospace wind-tunnel technologies to turn CO2 into a condensed solid for collection and capture. ATK's design incorporates a special nozzle that converges and diverges to expand flue gas, thereby cooling it off and turning the CO2 into solid particles which are removed from the system by a cyclonic separator. This technology is mechanically simple, contains no moving parts and generates no chemical waste, making it inexpensive to construct and operate, readily scalable, and easily integrated into existing facilities. The increase in the cost to coal-fired power plants associated with introduction of this system would be 50% less than current technologies.

Codexis, Inc.

Low-Cost Biological Catalyst to Enable Efficient Carbon Dioxide Capture

Codexis is developing new and efficient forms of enzymes known as carbonic anhydrases to absorb CO2 more rapidly and under challenging conditions found in the gas exhaust of coal-fired power plants. Carbonic anhydrases are common and are among the fastest enzymes, but they are not robust enough to withstand the harsh environment found in the power plant exhaust steams. In this project, Codexis will be using proprietary technology to improve the enzymes' ability to withstand high temperatures and large swings in chemical composition. The project aims to develop a carbon-capture process that uses less energy and less equipment than existing approaches. This would reduce the cost of retrofitting today's coal-fired power plants.

Columbia University

Chemical and Biological Catalytic Enhancement of Weathering of Silicate Minerals as Novel Carbon Capture and Storage

Columbia University is developing a process to pull CO2 out of the exhaust gas of coal-fired power plants and turn it into a solid that can be easily and safely transported, stored above ground, or integrated into value-added products (e.g. paper filler, plastic filler, construction materials, etc.). In nature, the reaction of CO2 with various minerals over long periods of time will yield a solid carbonate--this process is known as carbon mineralization. The use of carbon mineralization as a CO2 capture and storage method is limited by the speeds at which these minerals can be dissolved and CO2 can be hydrated. To facilitate this, Columbia University is using a unique process and a combination of chemical catalysts which increase the mineral dissolution rate, and the enzymatic catalyst carbonic anhydrase which speeds up the hydration of CO2.

General Electric

CO2 Capture Process Using Phase-Changing Absorbents

General Electric (GE) Global Research and the University of Pittsburgh are developing a unique CO2 capture process in which a liquid absorbent changes into a solid upon contact with CO2. Once in solid form, the material can be separated and the CO2 can be released for storage by heating. Upon heating, the absorbent returns to its liquid form, where it can be reused to capture more CO2. The approach is more efficient than other solvent-based processes because it avoids the heating of extraneous solvents such as water. This ultimately leads to a lower cost of CO2 capture and will lower the additional cost to produce electricity for coal-fired power plants that retrofit their facilities to include this technology.

Georgia Tech Research Corporation

High Performance Metal Organic Frameworks/Polymer Composite Membranes for Carbon Dioxide Capture

A team of six faculty members at Georgia Tech Research Corporation is developing an enhanced membrane by fitting metal organic frameworks, compounds that show great promise for improved carbon capture, into hollow fiber membranes. This new material would be highly efficient at removing CO2 from the flue gas produced at coal-fired power plants. The team is analyzing thousands of metal organic frameworks to identify those that are most suitable for carbon capture based both on their ability to allow coal exhaust to pass easily through them and their ability to select CO2 from that exhaust for capture and storage. The most suitable frameworks would be inserted into the walls of the hollow fiber membranes, making the technology readily scalable due to their high surface area. This composite membrane would be highly stable, withstanding the harsh gas environment found in coal exhaust.

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Catalytic Improvement of Solvent Capture Systems

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) is designing a process to pull CO2 out of the exhaust gas of coal-fired power plants so it can be transported, stored, or utilized elsewhere. Human lungs rely on an enzyme known as carbonic anhydrase to help separate CO2 from our blood and tissue as part of the normal breathing process. LLNL is designing a synthetic catalyst with the same function as this enzyme. The catalyst can be used to quickly capture CO2 from coal exhaust, just as the natural enzyme does in our lungs. LLNL is also developing a method of encapsulating chemical solvents in permeable microspheres that will greatly increase the speed of binding of CO2. The goal of the project is an industry-ready chemical vehicle that can withstand the harsh environments found in exhaust gas and enable new, simple process designs requiring less capital investment.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Electrochemically Mediated Separation for Carbon Capture and Mitigation

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Siemens Corporation are developing a process to separate CO2 from the exhaust of coal-fired power plants by using electrical energy to chemically activate and deactivate sorbents--materials that absorb gases. The team found that certain sorbents bond to CO2 when they are activated by electrical energy and then transported through a specialized separator that deactivates the molecule and releases it for storage. This method directly uses the electricity from the power plant, which is a more efficient but more expensive form of energy than heat, though the ease and simplicity of integrating it into existing coal-fired power plants reduces the overall cost of the technology. This process could cost as low as $31 per ton of CO2 stored.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

High Performance CO2 Scrubbing Based on Hollow Fiber-Supported Designer Ionic Liquid Sponges

The team from Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and Georgia Institute of Technology is developing a new technology that will act like a sponge, integrating a new, alcohol-based ionic liquid into hollow fibers to capture CO2 from the exhaust produced by coal-fired power plants. Ionic liquids--salts that exist in liquid form--are promising materials for carbon capture and storage, but their tendency to thicken when combined with CO2 limits their efficiency and poses a challenge for their development as a cost-effective alternative to current-generation solutions. Adding alcohol to the mix limits this tendency to thicken in the presence of CO2 but can also make the liquid more likely to evaporate, which would add significantly to the cost of CO2 capture. To solve this problem, ORNL is developing new classes of ionic liquids with high capacity for absorbing CO2. ORNL's sponge would reduce the cost associated with the energy that would need to be diverted from power plants to capture CO2 and release it for storage.

Research Triangle Institute

Novel Non-Aqueous CO2 Solvents and Capture Process with Substantially Reduced Energy Penalties

Research Triangle Institute (RTI) is developing a solvent and process that could significantly reduce the temperature associated with regenerating solvent and CO2 captured from the exhaust gas of coal-fired power plants. Traditional CO2 removal processes using water-based solvents require significant amount of steam from power plants in order to regenerate the solvent so it can be reused after each reaction. RTI's solvents can be better at absorbing CO2 than many water-based solvents, and are regenerated at lower temperatures using less steam. Thus, industrial heat that is normally too cool to re-use can be deployed for regeneration, rather than using high-value steam. This saves the power plant money, which results in increased cost savings for consumers.

Sustainable Energy Solutions

Cryogenic Carbon Capture

Sustainable Energy Solutions (SES) is developing a process to capture CO2 from the exhaust gas of coal-fired power plants by desublimation--the conversion of a gas to a solid. Capturing CO2 as a solid and delivering it as a liquid avoids the large energy cost of CO2 gas compression. SES' capture technology facilitates the prudent use of available energy resources; coal is our most abundant energy resource and is an excellent fuel for baseline power production. SES capture technology can capture 99% of the CO2 emissions in addition to a wide range of other pollutants more efficiently and at lower costs than existing capture technologies. SES' capture technology can be readily added to our existing energy infrastructure.

Texas A&M University

Stimuli-Responsive Metal Organic Frameworks for Energy-Efficient Post Combustion Capture

A team led by three professors at Texas A&M University is developing a subset of metal organic frameworks that respond to stimuli such as small changes in temperature to trap CO2 and then release it for storage. These frameworks are a promising class of materials for carbon capture applications because their structure and chemistry can be controlled with great precision. Because the changes in temperature required to trap and release CO2 in Texas A&M's frameworks are much smaller than in other carbon capture approaches, the amount of energy or stimulus that has to be diverted from coal-fired power plants to accomplish this is greatly reduced. The team is working to alter the materials so they bind only with CO2, and are stable enough to withstand the high temperatures found in the chimneys of coal-fired power plants.

University of California, Berkeley

Developing Metal-Organic Frameworks as Adsorbents for Industrial Carbon Capture Applications

The University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley) is developing a method for identifying the best metal organic frameworks for use in capturing CO2 from the flue gas of coal-fired power plants. Metal organic frameworks are porous, crystalline compounds that, based on their chemical structure, vary considerably in terms of their capacity to grab hold of passing CO2 molecules and their ability to withstand the harsh conditions found in the gas exhaust of coal-fired power plants. Owing primarily to their high tunability, metal organic frameworks can have an incredibly wide range of different chemical and physical properties, so identifying the best to use for CO2 capture and storage can be a difficult task. UC Berkeley uses high-throughput instrumentation to analyze nearly 100 materials at a time, screening them for the characteristics that optimize their ability to selectively adsorb CO2 from coal exhaust. Their work will identify the most promising frameworks and accelerate their large-scale commercial development to benefit further research into reducing the cost of CO2 capture and storage.

University of Colorado, Boulder

Achieving a 10,000 GPU Permeance for Post-Combustion Carbon Capture with Gelled Ionic Liquid-Based Membranes

Alongside Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Electric Power Research Institute, the University of Colorado, Boulder (CU-Boulder) is developing a membrane made of a gelled ionic liquid to capture CO2 from the exhaust of coal-fired power plants. The membranes are created by spraying the gelled ionic liquids in thin layers onto porous support structures using a specialized coating technique. The new membrane is highly efficient at pulling CO2 out of coal-derived flue gas exhaust while restricting the flow of other materials through it. The design involves few chemicals or moving parts and is more mechanically stable than current technologies. The team is now working to further optimize the gelled materials for CO2 separation and create a membrane layer that is less than 1 micrometer thick.

University of Kentucky

A Solvent/Membrane Hybrid Post-combustion CO2 Capture Process for Existing Coal-Fired Power Plants

The University of Kentucky is developing a hybrid approach to capturing CO2 from the exhaust gas of coal-fired power plants. In the first, CO2 is removed as flue gas is passed through an aqueous ammonium-based solvent. In the second, carbon-rich solution from the CO2 absorber is passed through a membrane that is designed to selectively transport the bound carbon, enhancing its concentration on the permeate side. The team's approach would combine the best of both membrane- and solvent-based carbon capture technologies. Under the ARPA-E award, the team is enabling the membrane operation to be a drop-in solution.

University of Notre Dame

CO2 Capture with Ionic Liquids Involving Phase Change

The University of Notre Dame is developing a new CO2 capture process that uses special ionic liquids (ILs) to remove CO2 from the gas exhaust of coal-fired power plants. ILs are salts that are normally liquid at room temperature, but Notre Dame has discovered a new class of ILs that are solid at room temperature and change to liquid when they bind to CO2. Upon heating, the CO2 is released for storage, and the ILs re-solidify and donate some of the heat generated in the process to facilitate further CO2 release. These new ILs can reduce the energy required to capture CO2 from the exhaust stream of a coal-fired power plant when compared to state-of-the-art technology.

ATK and ACEnt Laboratories, with the help of ARPA-E funding, have taken an aerospace problem, supersonic condensation, and turned it into a viable clean energy solution for carbon capture.
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