May 20, 2015
University to lead national carbon capture student training program
A new federal grant for the University of Calgary will provide a comprehensive training opportunity for students working on cheaper, more efficient means of capturing greenhouse gas emissions that will ultimately help them drive progress in the carbon capture industry.
Chemistry professor George Shimizu is the fourth University of Calgary professor to lead a CREATE Grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). His coalition of energy research partners across Canada will receive $1.65 million over six years to train students to develop various carbon capture technologies for eventual industrial use.
“A major outcome of the research is to connect, support and train the people that are working on this large challenge,” says Shimizu, who is also associate dean in the Faculty of Graduate Studies. “The goal is to produce people who can be the technology developers, technology implementers, and policy-makers who have a deep understanding of the many-fold challenges and who can then communicate them.”
Pictured above are Chemistry professor George Shimizu, left, and grad student Roger Mah.
Connecting a multidisciplinary team to tackle new carbon capture technologies
With key research partners in Shimizu’s project based in Calgary as well as Vancouver, Ottawa and Edmonton, the team includes scientists, engineers, political scientists and business analysts. They are collaborating on every stage in the development of new carbon capture technologies across several themes, including pre-combustion capture, post combustion capture and biological capture.
Shimizu’s post-combustion theme involves new carbon capture materials called metal-organic frameworks (MOFs). This technology is relatively new, having been developed in the past two decades and only recently applied to the challenges of carbon capture from energy production.
Shimizu’s team made a breakthrough in developing an MOF that works like a “solid sponge” to trap excess carbon dioxide emissions at the source from the combusted gas stream. This eliminates the need for the currently employed aqueous solution systems, which require more regeneration energy, making them less efficient. This advancement could potentially save power plants up to 50 per cent of the cost to capture greenhouse gasses according to Bow Valley Innovations, a private company that has partnered with Shimizu in conjunction with Innovate Calgary.
Applying promising 'MOFs' to energy production
MOFs are networks of metal ions or ion clusters that are bridged by organic molecules into a porous structure with little holes that are the right size and shape to capture CO2 emissions. MOFs have a wide range of uses but they are well suited for the capture of carbon dioxide and natural gas storage. There are, however, an infinite number of network combinations so researchers around the world are working to find the right networks to match with each of the wide variety of energy production environments that exist.
"We believe this metal-organic framework is a significant step forward in carbon capture technology and could enable wide adoption of a low cost-effective solution to reduce carbon dioxide emissions,” says George Stephenson, chairman of Bow Valley Innovations. “Therefore, our team looks forward to quickly advancing our technology to commercialization. We’re also excited to see the high level of training this grant provides, as these students will be exactly the type of future employees we’ll be looking for.”
CMC Research Institutes (formerly Carbon Management Canada), a non-profit corporation with a mission to accelerate innovation to eliminate industrial greenhouse gas emissions, believes this project is a highly promising step toward reaching its goal.
“Shimizu is addressing some very important issues with his MOFs,” says Richard Adamson, president of CMC. “His group has made great strides in taking this technology from the lab bench and moving it toward real world application. This could be the enabling element for some key carbon capture applications.”
Groups tackle specific elements of a carbon capture system
Students from multiple disciplines will work in groups to tackle specific elements of a carbon capture system. Given their direct interaction with each other, this will provide them with a wealth of knowledge about every aspect of the process, from materials discovery, engineering a system for capturing carbon dioxide and navigating policy and regulatory restrictions governing the industry, as well as understanding public perception around greenhouse gases and climate change.
In addition to the researchers being funded at the universities of Calgary, Alberta, Ottawa, Carleton and British Columbia, the project also has additional collaborators from Canada and around the world. These include Cranfield University in the UK, a leader in carbon capture research in Europe; CanmetEnergy, part of Natural Resources Canada, which has large-scale equipment students may use to run experiments; and the Canadian Clean Power Coalition which has conducted in-depth studies on the economic viability of different carbon capture methods.
“Exposure to other academics in other fields, and to industry, is huge,” says Roger Mah, a chemistry PhD student working on Shimizu’s project. “It elevates the research itself and it will give a much more meaningful training experience.”
'Meaningful training experience'
Because there are so many different ways in which carbon dioxide can act in different environments, the challenge is to develop MOFs that are matched to the existing industrial environments in which they may be implemented. But for a solution to be practical, it requires much more than the right combination of metal and organic components.
“We need to think about how this will be engineered, how they can be implemented on a large scale and about the impact on energy costs and public acceptance,” says Mah. “You can’t just come up with a great material and think you’re done. Under the CREATE program, I have access to policy collaborators, engineer collaborators and even industry. Rather than just buckling down within my own field, with my own knowledge and skill sets, I can ask questions and broaden my own knowledge.
“Once I graduate and start working, I’m going to need to be able to communicate with people in these other fields anyway, this way we get exposure to many different fields that might not engage each other at the purely academic level.”