Prof. Earl Goetheer’s display screen lights up yet again. He is the principal scientist of process technology at TNO, and this time it is a Norwegian contact enquiring about the state of affairs regarding the Rijnmond Industrial Waste Processing Company’s plant in Duiven. “There is interest from all over the world, not just Europe”, he says. This is not surprising, because a unique plant for the capture of CO2 from flue gas originating from a waste power plant will be going into operation this summer; the CO2 will subsequently be used by market gardeners to cultivate their crops and save on natural gas.
Towards a CO2 neutral industry
The Rijnmond Industrial Waste Processing Company (AVR) is the first company in the world to realize a plant that captures CO2 from a waste power plant on such an enormous scale. TNO has had an important role in the design of the plant. Whereas pilot plants have so far only been able to handle several hundred kilos per hour, the plant in Duiven has an operational capacity of 12,000 kilos per hour. “That means that CO2 emissions will be reduced by 60,000 tonnes annually. In time, we intend to use the CO2 released at the Rozenburg site in the horticultural sector. We are also carrying out research into the use of CO2 in products for building materials and chemistry so that we can recycle all the CO2 captured”, says Hans Wassenaar, senior project leader of the AVR’s Energy and Residual Products.
Making it usable
The timing in 2015 could not have been better. The AVR had already made significant progress in the recovery of raw materials from waste and was committed to doing the same with CO2. It appeared that TNO had just built a mobile test rig to experiment with the capture of CO2 from various sorts of flue gases. The AVR’s waste incineration process was accurately simulated on-site on a small scale using TNO’s mobile capture unit. Unlike the CO2 released from the chimneys of coal or gas-fired plants, the CO2 released from this process primarily originates from biomass. The challenge was to make the already familiar CO2 capture technology applicable for this ‘greener’ variant of flue gas.
“In fact, you then have a circular system”, says Hans Wassenaar. “More than half of the energy we produce from waste treatment is biogenic energy. Two thirds of the CO2 released from this process is green. The CO2 captured will enable market gardeners to increase the sustainability of their businesses. They currently extract the CO2 they need from the natural gas they use to heat their glasshouses. Delivering the gas we recover from our waste treatment to the horticultural sector is a very elegant solution. Market gardeners can then switch to renewable energy sources, such as geothermal heat and residual heat networks, and will no longer need natural gas, which will, in turn, reduce CO2 emissions. The government has stipulated that waste power plants must capture two million tonnes of CO2 and the horticultural sector needs two million tonnes for sustainability purposes. This is a great way to start closing that chain.” The total CO2 emitted in the Netherlands amounts to around 200 million tonnes.
The Netherlands taking the lead
In 2016, TNO carried out extensive tests that showed that the AVR’s flue gases are of a good quality and eminently suitable for capture. TNO experts also made calculations to determine both the technical and economic feasibility of, and sketched the basic concept for, the design of the plant.
Earl Goetheer: “We at TNO have been working on the technology relating to the capture, usage and storage of CO2 for a long time now. We have, for example, been developing the CATO programme with other partners and are cooperating with large parties in the Netherlands and abroad. It has been very satisfying to be able to use all the knowledge we have acquired practically in a commercial plant. It is commendable that the AVR dared to take the technical and financial risks and be the first in the world to realize this on a large scale. Globally speaking, the Netherlands is really taking the lead in the capture of CO2 in the waste energy sector. Incidentally, plans have recently been developed in Norway for large-scale CO2 capture at a waste-to-energy plant.”
The world is taking note
The AVR is not resting on its laurels, though. Duiven is a relatively small waste treatment plant. The branch in Rozenburg is many times larger and a feasibility study is now being carried out for this plant; the experiences acquired during the coming period in Duiven will play an important role in it. The idea is that TNO will accurately monitor the process, in all its facets, from this summer.
Hans Wassenaar: “The scaling up from hundreds of kilos to twelve tonnes in Duiven is already an enormous job, and the plant in the Port of Rotterdam is five times larger. We will continue to scale up so that we can ultimately capture as much CO2 as possible for use in the horticultural sector and also as the basis for sustainable chemicals, raw materials or fuels.”
Earl Goetheer: “These are big steps. This scale is ideal for us to carry out comprehensive practical tests, too. Which is why the world is watching us. Because this application has never been shown on this scale before. And the knowledge we build up can be used in other plants, including the gas and coal-fired plants that are still being built in large numbers in Asia. Our country has a wonderful export product here. The basis of the technology may even be useful in achieving negative emissions. If you store the biogenic CO2 captured underground, you remove the effective CO2 out of the atmosphere. Ultimately, we will therefore have to progress to negative CO2 emissions, and CO2 storage will be necessary if we are to achieve this on a large industrial scale.”