Capture milestone boosts CO2-to-fuel research goal

Scientists at RWE are celebrating their first milestone in work to create synthetic fuels from carbon dioxide (CO₂) as part of the broader ALIGN-CCUS project, which secured European funding last year.

The company’s CO₂ capture pilot plant at their lignite-fired power station in Niederaussem, Germany, has captured its first 1000 tonnes of CO₂ for the project, providing a high-purity source of the gas for this unique integrated carbon capture and utilisation (CCU) demonstration.

The testing campaign provides the opportunity to help reduce the operational costs of post-combustion carbon capture, which the team believes would boost deployment of the technology within the power and industrial sectors.

A proportion of the CO₂ captured in Niederaussem will be liquified then combined with hydrogen – produced in an electrolyser module –  to produce two different fuels: methanol (MeOH) and dimethylether (DME).

Both MeOH and DME are potential gamechangers, providing an alternative to fossil fuels for a variety of vehicles, from agricultural machinery to family cars. The chemicals also burn much more cleanly, eliminating soot and NOx emissions, and only limited adjustments are needed to convert conventional internal combustion engines for their use.

One of the next milestones for the RWE team will be the testing of the synthetic fuels on a car and a stationary peak power generator.

The capture technology testing at Niederaussem is fundamental to the goal of reducing the operational costs of post-combustion CO₂ capture. The pilot plant will operate for a total of around 24,000 hours, allowing the researchers to extensively test conventional and novel solvents, the chemical compounds used to remove CO₂ from flue gases.

New solvent monitoring techniques, which will support the development of solvent degradation counter measures and strategies, will also be evaluated under “real-life” conditions at Niederaussem.

The research, which has been made possible through funding from the European Union’s ERA-NET Accelerating CCS Technologies (ACT) programme, began last August and the plant has been in continuous operation since then.

Main image: Synthetic fuels, such as Dimethyl Ether, can be used as a transportation fuel as demonstrated, for example, by Oberon Fuels, using a DME-powered Mack truck. Photo: from www.greencarcongress.com