BASF touts commitment to carbon capture technology

Edited by Hydrocarbon Processing

For 40 years, BASF – the world’s largest chemical producer – says it has been at the forefront of gas treatment innovation. Today, with climate-change regulations on the rise, the focus has turned to making carbon capture and storage (CCS) commercially viable.

In 1971, BASF initially applied newly-developed technology based on activated methyl diethanolamine to remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from synthesis gas to produce ammonia, a crucial starting material for fertilizer. The facility, which is still in operation, is located at the Ludwigshafen, Germany.

In 2012, almost 300 plants worldwide use BASF’s knowhow to remove acid gases such as CO2 and hydrogen sulfide (H2S) from various types of process gases. Recently, BASF began marketing its combined gas-treating technology, chemical and technical service offerings under the Oase brand.

With climate change becoming an increasing concern globally, BASF says it is actively leveraging its expertise to become a leading contender in the race to make carbon capture and storage (CCS) commercially viable. Over the years, BASF’s portfolio has continuously expanded. Beyond extensive offerings in technology and gas-treating chemicals, the company offers additional technical support services, such as customized on-site training of personnel.

Europe and North America, as well as Australia and parts of Asia, are spending heavily on developing new, more efficient technologies for harnessing solar- and wind power to substitute fossil fuels. But many experts believe that coal will continue to be one of the pillars of the world’s energy supply for several decades to come.

To bridge the potential energy gap looming in some countries, new coal power stations undoubtedly will be built. This means that energy providers as well as technology suppliers will face a challenge on how to meet the ever more stringent national and international standards for emissions control in an efficient and affordable manner while working to develop more technologically advanced solutions.

The framework for cleaning greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from coal-fired power plants is now being put into place. The European Union (EU) is committed to reduce CO2 emissions by as much as 20% up to 2020 compared with 1990 and is prepared to raise this commitment to 30% if other industrialised nations agree to follow suit.

The Australian government in 2008 created a Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute and has committed A$100 million a year in funding to accelerate development of technologies to curb GHG emissions.

As coal is expected to dominate India’s fuel mix for another 20 years, its government for some time has been exploring development of cleaner technologies.

The US, too, has awakened to the need to act on emissions. In August 2010, the Interagency Task Force on Carbon Capture and Storage delivered a series of recommendations to President Barack Obama on how to overcome barriers to widespread, cost-effective deployment of CCS within 10 years. The report concluded that this technology can play an important role in domestic GHG emissions reduction while preserving the option of using coal and other abundant domestic fossil energy resources.

There are many potential routes to minimizing the impact of GHG on climate. BASF says it is currently tapping its technology resources to participate, alongside other companies, in a number of pilot projects in Europe and the US.

Closest to its home base, BASF is a partner in a pilot project steered by RWE Power at the German energy provider’s Coal Innovation Center in Niederaussem, Germany, near Cologne. The object is to test highly energy-efficient and oxygen-stable solvents for removing CO2 from bituminous coal emissions.

BASF has developed an improved scrubbing process based on new chemical solvents it has developed to capture CO2, and already has demonstrated that energy input can be slashed by about 20%, according to the company.

Altogether, RWE is spending around €9 million on the development project. The German federal government contributed about €4 million to the cost of the pilot plant, which was built and engineered by Munich, Germany-based international gases group Linde and captures around eight tons per day of CO2, equivalent to a separation efficiency of 90% for the flue gas processed.

BASF and Linde have been testing the CO2 capture technology at Niederaussem since 2009. According to Dr. Andreas Northemann, business manager, global gas treatment in BASF’s intermediates division, the improved solvents “feature clearly superior oxygen stability, which reduces solvent consumption significantly.”

The technology should allow more than 90% of the process gas from a power plant to be captured for sequestration underground or used for chemical transformation into fertilisers, for example, he says.

The two German technology giants are now working on solutions for demonstration plants – the first are due on stream in 2015 – as well as large-scale power plants. CO2 capture is expected to be used commercially in coal-fired power stations by 2020.

In the future, BASF and Linde-KCA-Dresden GmbH (LKCA), a subsidiary of the Munich group, also plan to jointly market licenses and plants for the capture technology. In the Middle East, for example, demand for purified CO2 is increasing, in particular to raise yields in crude oil production (by means of enhanced oil recovery) and in urea production.

In Spain, a special BASF gas treatment technology- similar to the purification of syngas - is being used at the Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) power plant of ELCOGAS in Puertollano that is planned to capture about 35,000 tpy of gas. The plant, already in commercial-scale operation, is also being used for demonstration purposes. It is expected to provide a wealth of information relating to the viability of the IGCC concept, which differs from the post-combustion capture concept.

Across the Atlantic Ocean, the German chemical group and its US subsidiary BASF Corp. have joined forces with RTI International – a high-tech think tank based in Research Triangle Park in North Carolina – to develop second-generation capture technology. The project is being supported in part by a $2 million grant from the US Department of Energy.

The partners will look into novel non-aqueous solvent systems that can be recycled. The aim is to find a “water free” capture process that could use 40% less energy than conventional amine-based processes.

Through the pooling of RTI’s engineering and research capabilities with BASF’s technical and commercial expertise in gas treatment, the aim is to clear a path for rapid commercialization of the carbon capture technology and thus enable cost-competitive clean energy production from coal-fired power plants.

In Japan, BASF has linked up with local companies JGC and INPEX to perform demonstration tests with a new technology for effectively capturing and recovering CO2 contained in natural gas. The tests were started in August 2010 at INPEX’s Koshijihara natural gas plant in Nagaoka City, Niigata prefecture.

To facilitate removal of the GHG, JGC and BASF in 2004 began jointly developing the new CO2 capture process called High Pressure Acid Gas Capture Technology (HiPACT). According to BASF, this process shows a “significantly higher” CO2 absorption, compared with existing processes, and is capable of regenerating the solvent under high-pressure conditions. An important milestone will be to transfer the new technology to an operating gas processing plant.

HiPACT is claimed to reduce overall power consumption in the facility while also lowering investment costs. More importantly, perhaps, because the gas is released from the solvent at well above atmospheric pressure, BASF says there is a significant reduction in the amount of energy required if CO2 is used in high-pressure applications such as chemical synthesis or is sequestered underground.

Building on the test results, JGC and BASF plan to commercialize the HiPACT technology “in all relevant sectors,” in particular natural gas projects with CO2 reinjection.

For more information, visit BASF’s website by clicking here.

The Author