The MefCO2 Pilot Plant

The MefCO2 Pilot Plant


Despite the 2015 COP21 Paris Agreement on
the climate change, we are experiencing a global rise in CO2 emissions. To overcome this discouraging scenario, the
European Commission is working hard towards the development of greener and renewable energy
sources, as well as supporting the transition to a low-carbon economy in the European Union. In this scenario, the MefCO2 project was born
in December 2014. We have built a pilot plant that re-utilizes
captured CO2 emissions and hydrogen produced from renewable energy sources to produce a
versatile low-carbon methanol that can be used either as a chemical
building block or as a fuel. The MefCO2 project contributes to the ambitious
goals established by the European Commission in two ways: it provides a more attractive
business case for CCU+CCS and, it enables the integration of higher shares of renewables
by stabilizing the grid and, also, by using renewables to produce methanol. We are now in the final stages of the project
and we are running tests in our pilot plant located in Germany. It hasn’t been easy:
During the project we had to change the site for the demonstration of the project and,
thanks to the help of RWE, we finally managed to erect the plant at the coal innovation
center at Niederaussem. Thanks to the great job by the consortium
partners and RWE’s commitment we made up for lost time and we managed to
adapt to the new scenario. Another challenge is related to the catalyst
and the process engineering. Our colleagues from the National Institute of Chemistry
in Slovenia and the Cardiff Catalysis Institute have worked hard on the development
and characterization of new catalysts, a work that has derived in a patent requested from CCI. In order to meet the project goals, it was
essential for us to make sure that our industrial partner Carbon Recycling International runs
a series of tests at their laboratory in Iceland in order to prove the potential of these new catalyst and,
also, to start working in the future commercialization. The third greatest challenge is to obtain
relevant results from the tests campaigns and to prove the feasibility of this technology
for future and real applications. Both the CO2 capture and compression units,
owned by RWE, were already erected on site at the power plant of Niederaussem. The remaining components were delivered on
October 2018. The height of the CO2 capture unit is around 40
meters with a capture capacity of 7.2 tons of CO2 per day, which is equivalent to a separation
efficiency of 90% for the flue-gas amount processed. The captured CO2 is dispatched to RWE’s
compression unit. The CO2 conditioning unit owned by Mitsubishi
Hitachi Power Systems Europe is placed next to it. This unit decompresses the CO2 and provide
it to the methanol reactor. MHPSE is also the partner in charge of the
integration of the different technologies within the pilot plant. On the 23rd of October 2018, the methanol
reactor unit, owned by CRI arrived at the site. The methanol unit is responsible for conversion
of CO2 and hydrogen gas streams into methanol at a production rate of 1 ton of methanol per day. Once the methanol unit was positioned, a different
crane arrived to lift the electrolyser, which has been designed and manufactured by Hydrogenics. The electrolyser is a two container unit:
the first one hosts a 600 kilowatts cell with a proton exchange membrane able to produce
a 120 cubic meters hydrogen per hour at a purity of up to 99.99%. The second container comprises all the needed
ancillary equipment such as the control system, the demineralised water system
and the water cooling loop. The cooling unit was the last piece of the
electrolyzer to arrive at the site and was positioned on top of the container. Lastly, a 26 cubic meters storage tank where
the crude methanol produced will be stored is located in front of the methanol unit. The tank is sitting on top of a sump, to prevent
leakage, and will be surrounded by fire protective walls and ceiling. When the tank is close to full the
crude methanol will be loaded to a truck and transported to the end user. In parallel to the site construction, the university
of Genoa along with the university of Duisburg-Essen and NIC, have been working hard in economic
and process simulation of the pilot plant. Relevant data from literature and also from
the plant operation has been used to carry out a sound thermo-economic analysis. The main challenges here are to demonstrate
the technical and economic feasibility of these type of plants, to align the simulation
with the plant operation and to be able to generate public papers reflecting the potential
of the integration of the technologies being used in the MefCO2 project. In addition the life cycle analysis
is a crucial tool to guarantee that we are producing a low-carbon methanol. Last but not least, the coordination of 9
partners from 7 different countries has also represented a challenge in terms of cultural
differences, communication and decision-making. In this sense, I-DEALS as project coordinator,
has been involved in the different activities of the project aiming to facilitate iteration
among partners and also to supervise the different risks to guarantee the successful implementation of the
action as agreed with the European Commission.

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