Novel Chemical Sensor Demonstration for Industry Leaders in Carbon Capture

Written by Bill Buschle, who is a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Edinburgh and received funding from the ECR International Exchange Fund to spend two weeks at Shell Cansolv in Montreal, Quebec and two weeks at the Carbon Capture Technology Facility in Estevan, Saskatchewan.

I was privileged to receive funding from the UKCCSRC to make two trips to Canada to collaborate with three industry leaders in carbon capture and storage.  The goal of the trip was to demonstrate the capabilities of a novel chemical analysis sensor I had developed during my PhD, funded through the Energy Technology Partnership.  The sensor could provide post combustion capture plant operators with continuous real time solvent amine concentration and CO2 loading measurements at flow conditions instead of intermittent lab based measurements that need to be performed around the clock by trained staff.  The sensor has been used on previous projects (here and here) and has contributed to some academic outputs (here, here, and here), but this would be a unique opportunity to demonstrate what the sensor could do in real commercial environments. 

My first stop was Shell Cansolv’s research lab in Montreal, Quebec.  I spent a week in Montreal to help setup and commission the sensor, followed by a 6 week test trial where I worked with Shell Cansolv staff remotely.  Finally, I returned to collect the sensor and present the test trial results to the Shell Cansolv R&D team.  The test results were well received by Cansolv leadership and will lead to follow-on projects and possible sensor commercialisation in 2017. 

I thoroughly enjoyed my experience throughout the test trial.  It was refreshing to work on “non-academic” problems and extremely validating to help address challenges facing companies at the forefront of carbon capture technology.  The company was incredibly welcoming, engaged and interested in academic research views on CCS.  Montreal is a beautiful and very cultural city, with Shell Cansolv’s main office and research lab located right in the city centre. 

Having bid adieu to Montreal, I travelled west with the sensor to the Estevan, Saskatchewan.  With a population smaller than most cities, the great Prairie Province of Saskatchewan is seen as one of the world leaders in carbon capture and storage.  SaskPower, the crown corporation utility of the province, built and commissioned the Boundary Dam Integrated Carbon Capture and Storage Demonstration project in 2014, a world first that leverages Shell Cansolv technology.  Their ambition continued in 2015 when SaskPower built and commissioned the state-of-the-art Shand Carbon Capture Test Facility (CCTF) in partnership with Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems (MHPS) to test and develop up-and-coming carbon capture technologies.  I spent 1.5 weeks at CCTF working with their technical staff to install and commission the sensor for a 10 week continuous test trial. 

The installation and commissioning went well and I found everyone I worked with to be welcoming, friendly, and incredibly talented.  The CCTF facility is impressive, ten stories high with state of the art equipment and instrumentation, but also is located in doors which I thought was unusual for a pilot plant at first.  It became very clear from the first day I arrived in December that putting shelter around the plant was a wise idea, because never before had I heard people talk so casually about the temperature being -36°C (-42°C with wind chill, of course).  I was glad I upgraded my winter clothing before leaving tropical Edinburgh.  Staying in Estevan was great, it has a small town feel that reminded me fondly of where I was raised and seeing all the snow was a welcome site from the mild Scottish winters.  By the end of my time there, I had fully acclimated and was craving ice cream despite it being -30°C outside. 

In early 2017, I will return to CCTF to present my results to SaskPower and MHPS staff and collect the equipment.  I will also be looking to continue developing the sensor into a commercial product which the wider CCS community can use to make post-combustion plants more flexible, efficient and economical.  Thank you very much to the UKCCSRC for providing the financial support through the international research collaboration fund and the professional network connections to make this project possible.