ECP Podcast: Scaling Carbon Capture and Storage Technologies Beyond the Laboratory

By Staff report

July 22, 2020

In the latest episode of the Let’s Talk Exascale podcast from the US Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Exascale Computing Project (ECP), Scott Gibson brings on guests Madhava Syamlal and Jordan Musser of the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) to discuss the latest technologies for capturing and storing carbon and how they can be scaled for industrial use. Given the critical urgency and importance of addressing climate change, this one is not to be missed.

“Disharmony between humanity’s desires for both economic prosperity and a healthy environment has been growing since the dawn of the industrial revolution. Today, as 80 percent of the world’s energy is derived from the burning of fossil fuels, societies continue to be faced with finding affordable and reliable ways of cleverly curbing man-made carbon dioxide (CO2),” writes Gibson in his introduction to the podcast.

“Although promising carbon-capture and storage technologies exist in the laboratory setting, the high cost of scaling up the designs for commercialization, coupled with the need for greater confidence in the likelihood of success, stands in the way of progress. But exascale computing simulations could help researchers clear those hurdles.”

The interview starts with a refresher of how carbon is released in the first place. “[Carbon] is intricately related to energy. As you know, the prosperity of any society depends upon the amount of energy it consumes, 80 percent of that energy comes from what are called fossil fuels — coal, natural gas, and oil,” relays Syamlal, lead principal investigator (PI) of an ECP subproject called MFiX-Exa Worldwide. “So, 80 percent of energy that we use—for example, the gasoline that we use in our cars or the electricity that we turn on in our houses—80 percent of that comes from fossil fuels. One unique feature of fossil fuels is that it contains carbon and hydrogen, and, typically, these fuels are burned, or combusted, in air, and when you do that, the hydrogen will essentially become water, so there is no issue there. But carbon, when it is burned, becomes carbon dioxide. And, so far, what we have been doing is to let that carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. As we all know, the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide has been increasing since the industrial revolution, and that causes global warming.

“In the US, about 35 percent of the CO2 emissions come from power plants, and these are fairly large sources of carbon dioxide,” adds Syamlal. “What we want to do is to separate that carbon dioxide from the power plant emissions. Typically, those emissions contain maybe about 13 percent carbon dioxide, and the rest is nitrogen. So, before we can store the carbon dioxide away, we want to separate it. That’s called carbon capture.

“Essentially, you separate carbon dioxide from a mixture of carbon dioxide and nitrogen. Then you can use the carbon dioxide from some purposes like enhanced oil recovery or making some building materials. Things like that. But still only a small percentage of the carbon dioxide that we generate can be used in that manner. Primarily, what we need to do is store it. So, that’s why it’s called carbon capture and storage.”

Per the podcast’s summary page, topics discussed include carbon capture and storage, promising lab-based carbon-capture systems, impediments to scaling up the lab designs for industrial use, problems that exascale computing simulations can help solve, the MFiX-Exa objective, the project’s use of computational fluid dynamics, its ECP challenge problem, how exascale computing will help manage the computational work, and the enduring legacy the MFiX-Exa project hopes to leave in its wake.

Link to podcast (“Scaling up Clean Fossil Fuel Combustion Technology for Industrial Use”) and complete transcript here.

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