By Pamela Largue, Power Engineering International

Carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) is a costly and complicated business and requires a high level of operational integrity throughout all steps in the value chain, a fact that makes automation imperative.

“This industry is struggling to be economically viable,” said Harris, and the role of automation and the importance of data integrity are becoming more critical than ever to ensure viability, he explained.

Understanding the role of automation in decreasing costs and increasing CCS project feasibility and integrity was the topic of conversation between Seth Harris, director of sustainability for the Americas at Emerson, and Gerardo Muñoz, senior solutions marketing manager at AspenTech.

Harris and Muñoz hailed carbon capture (direct air capture and point source capture) as “truly at the nexus of advancement, investment and adoption,” essential to reduce emissions, prevent emissions and reduce the impact of increasing energy demand from society.

However, a balance must be achieved between the cost and value associated with carbon capture projects, said Harris.

Harris pointed to public policy enabling permitting, the increased use of taxes and incentives, and the development of enabling technology as positive steps in creating value.

However, there are risks associated with the process, and these risks can be costly if not mitigated effectively.

Image credit: Emerson.

Step 1 – Capture and purification

The main challenge in this stage is achieving cost integrity while streamlining engineering and process design, which is why creating a digital foundation is so critical, said Muñoz.

Digital tools and sensing technology provide predictive diagnostics and are critical during heat transfer to minimize the systemic challenges and negative downstream impacts on CO2 rework.

Leveraging software to run economic analysis and using digital twins to ensure the facility runs optimally, are essential. These tools allow for the balancing of capture rate and energy use, taking into account varying feedstock and dynamic processes.

Real-time monitoring allows for greater awareness of process inefficiencies, an important tool to save money and energy.

Image credit: Emerson.

Step 2 – Compression and liquefaction

According to Harris, this step utilizes traditional rotating equipment that can fail and therefore present reliability challenges.

From compression into transportation as a gas or supercritical fluid, equipment reliability is essential.

Also, the nature of processes increases corrosion, which means remote asset monitoring and vibration analytics are critical to predict and prevent failures.

Harris further explained that CO2 and water can form a carbonic acid which can erode the pipes.

Automation therefore plays an important role in managing risk and safety and preventing leaks throughout the process.

Step 3 – Transport

Harris and Muñoz explained that where the CO2 is captured is not always ideal for storage, which means the CO2 must be carried, condensed and transported.

This phase of the value chain presents unique risks as it also involves the point at which CO2 is bought and sold.

Pipeline and leak monitoring is critical, with a specific focus on temperature, pressure fluctuations, solidification, and corrosion, with alerts being presented in the event of disruptions.

The custody transfer space also needs measuring to ensure effective transfer between parties.

Image credit: Emerson.

Step 4 – Geologic storage

The main risks involved in this stage of the process concern safety and containment and identifying candidate sites for long-term storage with maximum capacity.

To ensure government permits are secured, seismic data and CO2 migration rates and patterns are required, as well as details concerning safe injection rates and states, fluid control and maintaining geological integrity.

Advanced process control solutions help avoid unplanned downtime, ensure safe injection and ultimately heighten long-term project integrity.

Automation, data and cost control

The discussion showed the clear link between project viability, economics and project integrity.

In the past, said Harris, operational measurements were traditionally inferred, and calculated around expected measurements.

However, there is a clear link between the increased use of real-time measurements and the increased integrity and viability of a CCS project

When asked directly if automation reduces the costs associated with carbon capture projects, Harris answered: “The ability to have integrity is important…but ultimately integrity doesn’t always equal investment dollars…”

He emphasized that higher integrity provides a higher level of confidence, which is needed to encourage investment in this up-and-coming sector.

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