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The absorption of CO2 can be accelerated by giving nature a helping hand with technology Iv-Industrie

The absorption of CO2 can be accelerated by giving nature a helping hand with technology

The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is ever-increasing. However, due to the strong growth of solar and wind energy as a replacement for fossil fuels, this growth is slowing down, but not enough to speak of a turnaround. The startup, Paebbl, is an initiative that aims to accelerate and increase the mineralisation process of CO2 and further use it as a raw material for paper, plastic and concrete, for example. Iv-Industrie has been helping Paebbl with this special project since its foundation.

Applications for mineralised CO2

Nature has been absorbing CO2 through mineralisation for billions of years. This is the natural process in which CO2 is permanently captured in the form of limestone (80% of carbon is stored stably in this way; the White Cliff s of Dover (limestone rocks) were also once CO2). Pol Knops – together with Marta Sjögren, Jane Walerud and Andreas Saari, the founders of Paebbl – has been toying with the idea for fi fteen years of storing CO2 and accelerating the mineralisation process through technology to give nature a helping hand. Pol obtained his Master of Science at the University of Twente.

Such an idea requires reactors that can perform that natural process. A pilot installation will be set up in Rotterdam next year to gather insight and highlight areas of improvement to support large-scale mineralisation and CO2 capture in the future. Besides the fact that this is benefi cial for slowing climate change, it is also interesting for the market as the mineralised CO2 can be used in applications for paper, concrete and plastics, among other things.

An extraordinary project in the field of process and mechanical engineering to be involved in.

“During my lifetime, the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere has increased by a third. This is an awful lot’,’ says Pol Knops. “Stones absorb CO2 as a natural process, and nature determines the pace at which this happens. So from an engineering point of view, we can accelerate that process which is why we founded Paebbl.”

Utilising CO2
Instead of developing an initiative to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, Pol reversed his thinking: couldn’t CO2 be utilised better by removing it from the air and establishing a practical application for its use? The answer is: yes, that’s possible.

The mineral rock olivine is used to absorb CO2

Process Engineer Esmée Amsen and Senior Process Specialist Louk Eskens from Iv-Industrie have also been closely involved in this project. Paebbl deliberately engaged several engineering companies, one being Iv-Industrie. Louk and Esmée are performing the basic engineering for this pilot.

“It’s an extraordinary project to be involved in from the beginning. Normally, an engineering company would only be called in at a later stage of development when the concept is already there. However, this time, we have been directly involved in the thought process and have actively brainstormed all the challenges and less common factors. As a result, we’ve learned a lot along the way”, says Esmée.

Urgency for nature’s sake

Iv-Industrie was asked to design a reactor to perform the mineralisation process, which requires very specific and demanding equipment. The mineral rock olivine is used to absorb CO2. Olivine has the natural ability to do just that and already does so in nature. To absorb CO2 on a large scale in a reactor unit, it must be done under high pressure and high temperature. Pumping is not an option due to the weight of the granules.

Louk: “For us, it is a matter of gathering a lot of information and trial and error until we finally have the answers we seek. We are currently roughly three-quarters of the way through this process. It is an extraordinary project in the field of process and mechanical engineering to be involved in.

”What makes the startup of this project, founded a year ago, so special is that it is not about the cheapest and most efficient solution. On the contrary, it is about the most sustainable solution. This path was deliberately chosen, even if it is more expensive and takes more time to design and build.

“The best thing is that everyone involved with Paebbl is incredibly motivated to contribute and share knowledge and findings. Moreover, this enthusiasm is contagious”, says Esmée. “There is no urgency because of economic interest but for nature’s sake. I like that.

”Several plant installations have now been developed: a medium-sized one that can, for example, be placed next to a paper mill to take up CO2 locally. And a large factory that connects to a pipeline and captures CO2. The goal of both is to help the industry sectors achieve CO2 neutrality.

It is a unique collaboration whereby all involved keep the others informed and up to date

A so-called ‘HAZOP’ study is currently underway: hazard and operability. This study will determine at a detailed level where the (failure) risks lie during the operation of a plant and how these risks can be reduced.

Pumping under challenging conditionsThe greatest challenge lies in the functioning of the pumps needed to pump ground olivine. To what extent should the powder be dosed to do its job under the challenging conditions of high pressure and high temperature?

To make a significant impact, you must begin small, like the test phase in Rotterdam

“That’s quite a challenge”, says Louk. “But it can certainly work. The great thing about Paebbl is that they want us to try it via a pilot setup. So I think it’s realistic that we will have that installation in place within a year and a half. And even then, we will remain involved in terms of aftercare, of course.”

As far as Louk is concerned, optimism is the most beautiful aspect of this project. “There are many obstacles, but also because this is all new territory. No matter how many hurdles are encountered: we will eventually get there, is the thought. An obstacle doesn’t stop anyone from attaining their goal.”

Pol: “The approach is that we capture CO2 but also create a product from it. That market is potentially big.” But at the same time, he realises that this has been a process of years’ worth of work and that it will likely be years before Paebbl makes a more signifi cant impact. “As a chemist concerned about our natural world, this doesn’t make you happy. But the fl ip side is that we will be capturing a large percentage of CO2 thirty years from now. That is, of course, very advantageous, both for engineering and us.”

Feasible and scalable
Paebbl’s goal is to make a signifi cant impact. Starting small, like the test phase in Rotterdam, will form the beginning of that. “In addition, it must be feasible and scalable. I look forward to the testing phase, in which many answers will be presented. I think it’s fantastic that we’ve been working on this from day one with various engineering companies. It is a unique collaboration whereby all involved keep the others informed and up to date. We’re learning a lot from this.” •