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Companies Must Collaborate to Boost Vital Carbon Capture, Say ABB and Imperial

 19 July, 2018

Carbon capture will be "critical" for fighting emissions as the global average temperature and sea levels rise, bosses at a pilot project have said – but the technology's success will depend on 'smart' techniques and collaboration between companies.

Processing and recycling roughly 500 tonnes of CO2 per year, the carbon capture plant at Imperial College London opened in 2012 with £1m funding from engineering giant ABB. It is the only academic facility of its kind, and professors use it to give students hands-on experience of industrial plant operation.

The plant first passes a mixture of nitrogen and CO2 through a vessel where it becomes saturated with water. The gas then rises up an absorber tower while a solvent solution flows down, absorbing the gas. The mixture is then heated and condensed, leaving the greenhouse gas to be collected.

As fossil fuel use continues, the process gives "the opportunity to reduce a lot of those emissions in a relatively efficient way," said Dr Colin Hale, pilot scheme leader at Imperial. "If you have coal- or gas-fired power stations, then carbon capture ultimately is going to need to be in place."

The technology must become more cost-effective to be widely used, however, and Hale said progress relies mainly on collaboration. The front-runners in a cancelled carbon capture competition for the now-defunct Department of Energy and Climate Change were both collaborative ventures, he added. 

"That kind of collaboration, partnerships forming within the industry, is absolutely critical," said Will Leonard, digital solutions lead for chemicals at ABB.

At a media event at Imperial, the firm highlighted its ABB Ability Internet of Things platform. Ability connects companies’ machines and services with the cloud, analysing swathes of data for efficiency improvements. Firms can also use Ability to share performance data and other useful information with collaborators to develop better processes and technology, said Leonard.

An Ability offshoot called Field Information Manager has also been tested at the plant before its launch. The software could reduce time spent on 'non-critical' plant maintenance by 70-100%, ABB claimed.

Currently, instruments are verified and calibrated by a trained maintenance technician. In future, the company said, its software will connect devices to the cloud to provide around-the-clock diagnostic information, enabling operators to eliminate non-critical equipment tests.

The software will bring a "new era in plant operation and maintenance," ABB said, helping cut costs through reduced downtime and monitoring. (Institution of Mechanical Engineers)

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