Absorption and distillation are important separation technologies in the chemical industry, but they do consume a lot of energy. TNO is partnering industrial end-users, equipment builders, and suppliers of technology in developing and upscaling technologies in order to make the processes more economical and more energy-efficient. The first successes have already been chalked up in the E-Champ project.
TNO is taking part in the E-Champ project alongside end-user Dow Benelux, equipment builder Vahterus from Finland and their Dutch supplier Wijbenga, system integrator TechnipFMC, and the SUSTER R&D company. ‘Following successful trials in the TNO lab, we were asked to come on board to test the technology on a larger scale, under realistic conditions’, explains director Bert Heesink, of SUSTER.
‘We have installations for testing CO2 absorption technologies at pilot-scheme level. The results from the TNO lab formed the basis for this. We incorporated and tested the heat exchanger supplied by Wijbenga as part of our experiment, once it had been made suitable by Vahterus for CO2 absorption with a liquid solvent. This enabled us to show that it is possible to capture the absorption heat as soon as it is released, and to increase the CO2 absorption capacity of the unit. That results in cost savings and less of a burden on the environment.’
A new aspect in the technology is that absorption and cooling take place simultaneously. It is the first time that the two functions have been brought together in a single machine. Reactors and coolers (or heaters) are usually applied as separate units in industrial processes. This means not just a heavier investment, but also less efficiency.
“Integrated cooling helps companies make huge cost savings”
TNO expert Yvonne van Delft: ‘Integrated cooling can lead to savings of no less than fifteen percent in relation to the circulation speed, and another seven percent when re-boiling to boil off the absorbed CO2. That’s a very significant cost saving for businesses. The amounts involved are substantial.’
Fewer CO2 emissions
The module that has been tested, a plate and shell heat exchanger, may be purchased new, but it can also be incorporated into existing installations. Compared with traditional combinations of reactors and heat exchangers, the cooling process is now much quicker and more intensive. Because the cooling is more effective, less energy is consumed per ton of removed CO2, and that means fewer CO2 emissions from the removal process itself. Removing CO2 from industrial gas flows is rather expensive, which is why it is not yet done on a large scale. The new technology is not actually designed for this purpose, but it is a welcome side-effect.
‘It’s a win-win situation’, says Yvonne van Delft. ‘A unit of this kind could also be used in the pharmaceutical industry, for example. Other applications are conceivable too, in which immediate cooling is needed during the heating of liquids in an industrial process, or during absorption or during a reaction. Sectors such as the oil and gas industry and the chemical industry are facing the challenge of reducing their CO2 emissions. With this technology, you need less energy and that means fewer CO2 emissions.’
“You could apply this principle to any chemical process in which heat has to be removed or supplied”
Bert Heesink: ‘You could apply this principle to any chemical process in which heat has to be removed or supplied. In the new module, you can supply or remove heat at the source, depending on the situation. For example, heat may have to be removed to prevent a chemical balance being reached during a chemical reaction, thereby obtaining a higher conversion. In the pharmaceutical industry, cooling can be used to prevent products becoming too hot and disintegrating in the process.’
Further improvements to the design
The E-Champ project is one of many examples where TNO is working as a knowledge partner with industrial end-users and the manufacturing industry on developing technological innovations. The measurements carried out during the tests at SUSTER are now being incorporated by TechnipFMC in their models. This should result in improvements to the design of the module, which can then be tested in an industrial pilot. Ultimately, it should lead to a machine that can be used for both absorption and distillation processes. This technology puts the Netherlands at the very forefront of the field.
Looking to work in partnership?
TNO and its partners in E-Champ welcome industrial companies who would like to test and improve the integrated absorber in their processes. This could be to absorb CO2 or for other processes in which heat or cooling are required.