To support AVR in achieving its ambition to contribute to the Energy Agreement, carbon capture technology has emerged as a potential game changer. With support from TNO, Dutch waste-to-energy company AVR has achieved a world first: the large-scale capture of CO₂ from flue gas originating from a waste-to-energy plant. With its innovative solution, AVR is a first-mover in the waste energy sector – helping to reduce CO₂ emissions by 60,000 tonnes per year and inspire like-minded organizations the world over.

An opportunity too good to waste

Carbon capture, storage and utilization solutions (CCUS) are at the front line of efforts to reduce industrial emissions. In many countries, including the Netherlands, CCUS technology already plays a major role in reducing emissions from coal- or gas-fired plants.

CO released during combustion of residual non-recyclable waste is different, though. Such emissions originate partly from biomass, and the waste-management sector sees opportunities to handle the ‘greener’ variant of flue gas using existing carbon-capture technology.

“More than half of the energy we produce from waste treatment is accounted as renewable energy,” explains Hans Wassenaar, senior project leader of AVR’s energy and residual products. “And two-thirds of the CO released from this process is from biogenic origin.”

Yet, aided by the right solution, biomass-based emissions hold excellent potential for reuse. The horticultural industry is an obvious outlet: market gardeners regularly use CO to increase the yield of greenhouse crops, typically sourcing this from their gas-fueled heating systems. 

“What the world needs is a circular system,” Wassenaar adds. “If Greenhouses were able to obtain the CO they needed from other sources, such as waste management, they could switch more easily from natural gas to renewables, reducing overall emissions.”

From theory to practice

Having already made significant progress in the recovery of raw materials from waste, in 2015, AVR set its sights on a new target: capturing the CO emitted from its facilities and making it available to other industries for reuse. 

To do this, the company would need to attempt something that had never been done before: installing carbon-capture technology at a major commercial waste-management plant. AVR’s Duiven plant was selected for the project; one of the largest facilities of its kind in the Netherlands, the facility processes waste from 1.5 million households, generating about 400,000 tonnes of CO per year. 

With the location decided, AVR needed to find an experienced partner to provide consultancy and help to proof the principle.

This is where TNO came in. “By then, TNO had been working closely on solutions related to CO capture, usage and storage for several years,” explains Professor Earl Goetheer, principal scientist of process technology at the organization.

“We were involved in the CATO programme, a Dutch national R&D programme for CO capture, transport and storage from the start, as well as various similar projects in the Netherlands and overseas. The partnership with AVR was an opportunity to put all of this insight and experience to use in a major commercial setting.”

Getting their hands dirty

Joining the project in 2016, TNO’s experts began by calculating the technical and economic feasibility of the plant and sketching the basic concept for the design. Next followed a critical stage in the testing process: TNO built a working pilot of the CO-capture solution at the Duiven site, based on solvent-based carbon-capture technology.

“A dedicated on-site pilot is always the recommended path with this kind of high-risk venture,” explains Goetheer. “Behavior can be affected by the type of flue gas in use, so it’s essential to see how the plant works up close, and how everything interacts. This can’t be done by computer alone; you need to get your hands dirty.”  

Accompanied by modelling, the mobile unit was able to accurately simulate on a reduced scale how the carbon-capture process would work in practice, to determine the feasibility of the operation and identify potential issues and risks. Using the model, the project team was able to demonstrate that AVR’s flue gasses were of sufficient quality and suitable for carbon capture.

With the carbon-capture installation shown to be viable, TNO provided valuable information to help AVR in preparation to find a suitable partner to build the application. TNO’s consultants stayed close at hand throughout commissioning and operational stages, supporting with in depth process analysis once the plant first came online.

From conception to completion, the entire project took three-and-a-half years.

The tip of the iceberg

With its carbon-capture operation up and running, the Duiven plant is already repurposing about 60,000 tonnes of CO emissions per year, with the potential for further expansion. This excess carbon is being sold to local crop growers, enabling them to lower their natural gas usage.

“The scaling up from a few hundred kilos of captured carbon to thousands of tonnes is an enormous achievement,” says Wassenaar. “There is potential to go further still; our goal is to capture as much CO as possible.”

Duiven is just the tip of the iceberg. Building on the insights already gained, TNO and AVR are collaborating on a second carbon-capture solution for AVR’s waste-to-energy plant in Rozenburg, South Holland – a much larger operation.

A feasibility study is underway. “Now that we know the steps and potential challenges involved, we can accelerate the process,” Goetheer says. “The three years it took to bring the Duiven project to completion is already fast by anyone’s standards, but we’re hoping to take the lessons we’ve learnt to deliver an even more streamlined process.”

The world is watching

With TNO and AVR demonstrating that there are real possibilities for carbon capture outside the energy sector, there is growing interest from a wide range of organizations around the world.

“This kind of application has never been proven on such a major scale before,” says Goetheer. “The waste-management sector is just first-mover; other industries are now seeing what’s possible and taking notice. From steelmakers to cement, paper and petrochemical producers, there is huge potential to introduce carbon-capture technology to multiple areas of the economy.”

“We’re already receiving inquiries from parties in Europe and elsewhere. The world is watching us; the feeling is ‘if they can do it, we can too’.”