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A ChE 190 Concept Paper





ChE 190 Instructor

March 2017
State of Direct Air Capture Prototype
Arlene Joy L. Pasquin[1]
Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering V


The emissions of greenhouse gases are exponentially increasing from year 1970 to 2004, and
the most significant contributor is the carbon dioxide (CO2) (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Change, 2014). Furthermore, human activities have increased significantly the concentration of
greenhouse gases since 1750 and as a result, global warming has been experienced resulting to climate
change (Ranjan & Herzog, 2011). The carbon dioxide emissions are increasing faster especially in Asia,
Europe, and United States which is responsible for about 82% of the total global emissions in 2011
(Environmental Protection Authority, 2014). According to the IPCC (2014), the global greenhouse
gases emissions is predicted to rise by 25- 30% from 2000 to 2030 assuming that fossil fuels dominates
the composition in producing energy. The report also stated that countries that produces large
quantities of greenhouse gases are being pressured to reduce their emissions.

As the emissions of greenhouse gases continue to increase in quantity, the concern about its
effects is also growing. These phenomena have lead scientists and certain individuals to increase their
desire in reducing the amount of greenhouse gas emissions. Spigarelli & Kawatra (2013) stated that
fossil fuel fired power plants are being accounted to contribute 80% of the total energy production
worldwide and thus, responsible for the majority of the CO2 quantity in the atmosphere. They are
considered to be the largest point source contributing 40% of the total CO2 emission, thus making
them the most logical targets for immediate CO2 reductions.

According to Klaus Lackner (2015), director of the Center for Negative Carbon Emissions at
Arizona State University, with the rapid increase of carbon dioxide production in the atmosphere, the
most effective solution to avoid further damages and disruptions from global warming is to produce
a massive program of carbon dioxide (CO2) air capture devices that will initiate to reverse the buildup
of billions of tons of carbon in our atmosphere. Lackner himself starts to develop a device that was
patterned with the process of a tree in captivates the carbon dioxide, absorbing it from the
atmosphere as it passes through and releasing it in a stream of water.

Processes in reducing the CO2 emissions are currently being developed and some existing
options are:

the demand- side conservation,

supply side efficiency improvement,
increasing reliance on nuclear and renewable energy, and
carbon capture and storage systems (CCS) (Spigarelli & Kawatra, 2013).

Since almost all the current research on the carbon capture focused on the point- source or
stationary captures. These processes separates carbon dioxide from flue gas, compressed and
transported using pipelines. Among the presented options, carbon capture and storage systems
presents the most practical approach for long term carbon dioxide emission reductions as fossil fuels
will continue to be a major source of energy in the foreseeable future (Yang et al., 2008). Lackner

(2015) further believes that the direct air capture is a valuable tool in balancing the carbon budget.
This means that for every ton of carbon dioxide being taken from the ground, another ton must be
returned, and for every ton of carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere, another ton must also be

With the increasing quantity of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, air capture is considered to
be the last resort due to the following reasons:

it can cancel out all the addressed emissions

it can recover past emissions
it sets upper limit to the cost of carbon (Lackner, 2015).

Since an air capture is equipped with large storage CO2 capacity, it can draws down the CO2 in the
atmosphere. It can also produce synthetic fuel from the captured CO2 and H2O, therefore can increase
the production of liquid fuels for energy consumption by recycling the carbon.

Direct Air Capture Technology

Air capture technology refers to set of technologies which is design to encapsulate industrial-
scale quantities of carbon dioxide from the atmospheric air. Almost all the current research on the
carbon capture focused on the point- source or stationary captures. These processes separates carbon
dioxide from flue gas, compressed and transported using pipelines. In contrast to point source carbon
capture and storage (CCS) which captures only from flue stacks where carbon dioxide is concentrated,
direct air capture (DAC), which directly captures air and can be a significant tool in managing emissions
that are not in flue stacks form and are expensive to eliminate (Keith, 2017).

Carbon dioxide capture and storage process is consist of three general steps: (1) capture and
compression from combustion exhaust, which utilizes 90% of the total operating cost of a CCS system,
(2) transportation of the captured gases, and (3) utilization (Spigarelli & Kawatra, 2013). Due to the
high cost percentage of the capture and compression stage, researchers continue to develop and
conduct experiments in the area of CO2 capture.

There are several categories of carbon dioxide capture technologies, but there are only three
main types that are considered to help reduce the emissions. One of them is the post- combustion
technology. In this technology, CO2 is separated from the flue gas of the power station by bubbling
the gas through an absorber column packed with liquid solvents (theguardian, 2011). Another type
is the oxyfuel where the fuel is being burned in pure oxygen. The carbon dioxide which will be a
product of the reaction will be condensed out. Lastly, the pre- combustion which is normally applied
to coal gasification combined- cycle power plants. According to theguardian (2011), the coal is being
gasified to come up with a synthetic gas which is consist of carbon monoxide and hydrogen. The
carbon monoxide is then reacted with the water (H2O) to produce CO2 and then captured.

According to Holmes & Keith (2012), the advantages of an air capture technology are
enumerated below:

It allows the application from industrial scale to small and mobile emission sources.
It provides a path in managing the carbon emission in transportation sector.

It significantly reduces the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere unlike other
options. The accumulating stock of the CO2 in the atmosphere could not be reduce without the
industrial- scale air capture technology.

Technologies that captures carbon dioxide from the atmosphere has been made available in
the market to serve as a pre- treatment before cryogenic air separation. The development of the air
contactor has reached as far as the design of industrial- scale air contactor systems in a problem-
specific design, however, no commercial- scale air contactor system has been produce yet. Arguments
about the cost of investment in developing the air contactor design has arisen as the estimates of its
cost and the potential for cost reductions are the major concerns. American Physical Society (APS)
(2012) reported that air contactor cost could reach $800 per ton of CO2 considering the current
existing technology. This furthermore implies that there is a little prospect for substantial near- term
improvement (Stolaroff et al., 2008). Another analysis suggests that the cost could be estimated to
around $1000 per ton of CO2. However, an engineering company in Canada suggests that the overall
cost would be much lower.

Carbon Engineering

In Canada a company is currently conducting series of experiments in developing the existing

carbon capture technologies. Carbon Engineering, an independent company stationed in Calgary,
Canada, was established to develop and produce cost-effective, industrial- scale direct air capture
technology. It was formed by Dr. David Keith, a chemical engineer, in 2009 together with his groups
at the University of Calgary. The main focused of this company is to commercialize direct air capture
(DAC) through a process derived from the existing industrial technologies to minimize the risks of
scaling up. Based on the companys analysis, the cost estimates suggests that the technology being
develop can be commercialized by using direct air capture to produce low life- cycle carbon intensity
fuels into the market (Holmes et al., 2013). The Carbon Engineering further envisions to make a direct
fuel synthesis from the air captured CO2 and H2 produced possible.

Carbon Engineerings Outdoor Contactor Prototype

One of the air capture technology that the Carbon Engineering develops is the wet scrubbing
air contactor design. Unlike in the traditional gas scrubbing techniques, this wet scrubbing air
contactor is a combination of the elements of the gas scrubber and cooling tower technologies. This
technology is a slab- shaped air contactor which is filled with structured packing material which
supplies a strong hydroxide solution. The solution forms film in the packing and removes the carbon
dioxide from the air as it makes contact. The air flow are being drive by the fans and the contactor
operates in cross- flow manner. The air passes through horizontally while the liquid is being pumped
to the upper part of the contactor and then dispersed throughout the packing by gravity. Figure 1
shows the full- scale slab contactor design which can capture 100 kilotons of carbon dioxide per year
(Holmes et al., 2013).

Figure 1. Carbon Engineerings full scale slab contactor design (Holmes et al., 2013).

A lot of researches has been conducted in order to develop such prototype. Each part and
type of materials used were carefully chosen based on an experiment. One of these developmental
researches is the experiment made by the group of Stolaroff, Keith, and Lowry in 2008. The research
aimed to find the best configuration of the sodium hydroxide spray. Figure 2 shows the diagram of a
prototype contactor.

Objectives of the Outdoor Contactor

The experimentation in building the outdoor prototype was to validate its effectiveness
quantitatively. This was built to test the performance of the prototype such as the cross flow and PVC
packing- based by demonstrating several months of run- time without substantial performance
degradations. In addition, it aims to determine the feasibility of NaOH spray- based contactor for use
in an air capture system through the estimation of the cost and energy requirements of per unit of
carbon dioxide captured.

This will also allow the measurement of the loss rates of hydroxide droplets for safer handling
of the contactor. The percentage of the total re- circulating liquid lost is known to be the drifts. With
the use of the contactor, the amount of loss stream will be determined as well as the need of installing
drift eliminators. Drift eliminators are commercially sold in the cooling tower industry which aims to
minimize the drift levels.

In addition, the process aims to capture carbon dioxide with the best possible economics since
the priority for carbon dioxide capture and storage is the minimization of the energy consumption as
well as the chemical used. The outdoor air contractor was designed to replicate the physical and
chemical issues for a larger- scale system (Holmes et al., 2013).

Lastly, the objective of the developmental research of the prototype is to determine the
feasibility of building an air contactor as well as the use of the sodium hydroxide (NaOH) as the solvent
being sprayed in the contactor (Stolaroff et al., 2008).

Figure 2. (a) Diagram of prototype contactor. Atmospheric CO2 is absorbed by NaOH spray. CO2
concentration at the air intake and outlet is measured and the rate of CO2 absorption is calculated. (b) A
channel in suggested full-scale contactor design. Many such channels would be arranged side-by-side, contained
by a hanger-like structure (Stolarroff et al., 2008).

Process Design

Several processes that capture carbon dioxide from gas streams are already available in the
market. Among these is the absorption of CO2 in mono- ethanolamine solutions which is applied at
moderate partial pressures. Another is the use of Selexol to capture carbon dioxide from the syngas,
however, this solution is used at high partial pressures. Although the effectivity of these solutions are
already proven, neither of them can be used for CO2 capture from air. Calcium hydroxide is a possible
aqueous solution since it enhances the absorption by converting the CO2 to carbonates. However,
calcium hydroxide is known to have low solubility that could cause scaling on the walls of the contactor
(Baciocchi, Storti, & Mazzotti, 2006).

Pursuing the approach discussed by Greenwood and Pierce (1953), sodium hydroxide will be
used instead of calcium hydroxide since there exist no scaling due to the high solubility of the solution.
It is also effective in enhancing the CO2 absorption. Figure 3 shows the schematic process of the
contactor in absorbing CO2 from the air. The carbon dioxide in air (stream 1A) is transported to an
absorption column where it is absorbed by the sodium hydroxide solution (stream 1C) producing a
stream containing carbon dioxide stream (stream 1D) in the form of carbonate ions.

Figure 3. Scheme of the plant for CO2 capture from air; process option A (Baciocchi et al., 2006)

In concentrating the carbon dioxide process, two requirements must be met. First, the
concentrated carbon dioxide stream is required for CO2 storage, second, the recovery of the reactants
used in absorbing the CO2 must be maximized. Two existing process are considered to be used- the
Kraft process and the lime- soda softening processes. The similarity of these processes is that they
both deal with a sodium carbonate solution which needs to be converted into sodium hydroxide
solution. Hydroxide solution is produced by reacting sodium carbonate with lime. The exchange of
sodium and calcium cations in a precipitator leaves calcium carbonate as precipitate. The precipitate
is then further calcined to quicklime and the carbon dioxide is recycled and used for pressurization
and storage (Baciocchi et al., 2006).

The same process is done with the outdoor contactor, however, the calcination happens
inside the kiln where pure oxygen is used to combust the reactants. This will allow the reaction to yield
flue gases which contains high percentage of carbon dioxide and water which could be separated
easily in a condenser. Hassibi (1999) further discussed that the slaker (Unit 2) in Figure 2 is designed
based on the standard practice which is by selecting the ratio between the water and the quicklime in
order to control the process temperature at its set point. The process temperature is considered to
be the most significant variable since it controls the characteristics of the products. In this prototype,
the slaker is operating at 95 C which is the optimal temperature based on the product characteristics.
The water for slaking is provided by an external source (Baciocchi et al., 2006).

Holmes et al. (2013) states that the outdoor contactor was built to examine the core packing
wetting, mass transfer and potential particulate fouling phenomena that affects the performance of
the Carbon Engineering air contactor design. The quantitative analysis of the following parameters is
significant in scaling- up and future developments of the design. Figure 4 shows the illustrative design
of the air contactor.

Figure 4. Schematic of the CEs outdoor air contactor (Holmes et al., 2013)

The outdoor contactor is composed of 10m3 structured PVC packing which is made of
Brentwood Industries XF12560. This was chosen to be the most optimal material in capturing the CO2
after several trials and experiments. Stainless- steel and PVC based packing were also evaluated as
potential packing material. The pack volume was measured to be 1.8m tall and 0.9m wide with an air
travel distance, where air travels through wetted packing, of 4.5 6m.

Above the packing volume are spray nozzles which distributes the hydroxide solution
throughout the packing. Nine nozzles composed a module which covers a top area of 1m2 packing.
The liquid, after contacting with the packing volume, falls through a grated floor and returned to a
sump. The flow rates of each sprayer were also varied and the liquids were transferred using pipes
and valves. A small stream of liquid is being discharge at the same sump to further removed the CO2
constituents to further form the hydroxide (OH) for continuous capture. When the operation is run at
steady- state, the removal rate of carbon dioxide from the solution matches the capture rate carbon
dioxide from the air (Holmes et al., 2013).

An inlet louver was also attached at the front of the contactor to prevent the entry of large
particles to the packing volume. These large particles can case clogging, resulting to an increase in
pressure drop. Moreover, a drift eliminator was used at the down- stream end of the contactor to
remove the entrained hydroxide droplets. Both components at the inlet and outlet of the contactor
are supplies by Brentwood Industries as it was quantitatively analyze as the optimal material to be
used. Figure 5 shows other illustrative images of the outdoor contactor prototype.

Figure 5. Fabrication and worksite of the outdoor contactor prototype (Holmes, et al., 2013)


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