Flexible Funding 2021: Prof Ed Lester, University of Nottingham

Pilot Scale Carbon Capture using Solid Sorbents PICASSO


Key facts about this Flexible Funding research project

Institution: University of Nottingham
Department: Chemical and Environmental Engineering Department
Start date: 1st September 2021
Principal investigator: Prof Edward Lester, University of Nottingham
Amount awarded by UKCCSRC: £49,886

Why is this research needed?

The CCS landscape is now changing rapidly and strategies for tackling global warming have been launched on national and international levels and the urgency is felt globally. The US has now re-joined the Paris Agreement. Recently it also announced a targeted cut in US greenhouse gas emissions at least in half by the end of the decade. Europe has moved from 80% reduction targets in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 to a net zero target. Half of the nations of the world have signed up to this net zero target but it is going to be very hard to reach without step changes in CCS technologies. Companies like Drax Group aim to operate carbon negative power stations by capturing the carbon produced through power generation.

There are around 20 industrial plants (and only 2 power stations) operating CCS at present with a total capacity of about 40 million tonnes of CO2 /yr. Whilst this is set to double in the next few years, large CCS plant requires 5-10 years to build, and 1.5 gigatonnes/yr capture are needed (i.e. 35-40x current rates) by 2030 to stay on current climate trajectories. This unfortunately places considerable pressure on industry to focus on technologies that are available now. This means MEA scrubbers or similar, rather than technologies that are on the near horizon that have lower energy penalties and are more sustainable (solvent free). Solid sorbent technologies need to be able to demonstrate efficacy in the near term if they are to have a chance of being part of the CCS landscape in the next 10 years.

All current roadmaps describe a need for rapid development and scale-up of 2nd and 3rd generation capture technologies. MOFs have made very little progress on the CCS landscape mainly because of cost rather than sorption potential. However, there are MOFs that resist the temperatures and moisture levels present in flue gas, but the cost of these MOFs (till now) has been the issue. This PICASSO project aims to break this cycle by demonstrating that MOFs can perform well in real conditions and can be manufactured at scale and in a cost effective and environmentally friendly way. This project will enable the researchers to carry out trials at an actual power station, in advance any other group in the world.

What is this research investigating?

This project aims to demonstrate that robust metal organic framework sorbents (MOFs) can capture over 100kgs CO2 /day from actual flue gas from the Drax Incubator site at Drax Power Station in Selby, North Yorkshire. The team’s project partner Promethean Particles will provide 50kg of MOF material for this project using their industrial scale plant. The research team will use this MOF in adsorption columns that will be based at Drax for continuous trials in the second half of the project. The final stage will be techno-economic assessment and sustainability modelling for comparison with first generation carbon capture systems like amine scrubbers.

  • This project is using a unique pipe-in-pipe counter current reactor (invented at Nottingham) to produce low-cost, solvent free MOFs. The PI was also the first to show that MOFs could be produced continuously in 2012.
  • This research team recently developed novel rigid MOF monolith structures without binders (with PhD students on EP/S022996/1 and EP/S022236/1) that allow large adsorption columns to function without pressure
  • No other group in the world has achieved this scale of CO2 capture using MOFs and this project has industrial involvement from a UK SME that operates the largest MOF production facility in the
  • Many MOFs that have been designed for CO2 capture are simply too expensive or too air sensitive to work with real flue gas. This project is focusing on using established and robust MOFs that can perform well in an industrial environment, rather than under ideal lab
  • The researchers will use a layered column structure of different MOFs to create an optimal capture rate and capacity.

What does the research hope to achieve?

Success in this project will create a persuasive case for power generators as well as for the construction, steel and chemical sectors that collectively represent approximately 40% of the total CO2 emitted in the UK. It will also open up possibilities for other industries seeking to capture and store gases such as hydrogen.  Successful application of MOFs at this scale would also create new opportunities in research areas like bioenergy and hydrogen and alternative energy vectors.

Research outputs

This research is ongoing. Outputs will be shared below as they become available.