Cutting-edge technology that 'captures' polluting carbon dioxide and stores it permanently inside rocks will be developed at a new £1.1m research centre at The University of Nottingham.
Dr Mercedes Maroto-Valer, Associate Professor and Reader in Energy Technology, has won £1.1m for a new centre that is set to play a crucial role in the fight against climate change.
The Centre for Innovation in Carbon Capture and Storage (CICCS) — due to open in October 2007 — will develop novel technologies to trap and store greenhouse gases permanently and safely, so they are not released into the atmosphere.
The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), through the Challenging Engineering initiative, has just announced a five-year funding package for CICCS, with a view to it becoming a world leader in the development of novel processes for carbon capture and storage and establishing partnerships with major international industries and research centres.
Dr Maroto-Valer, Director of the Centre, said: “The novel technologies developed at the Centre will enable the UK to meet its targets for the reduction of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, and thus help the UK to play its part in global efforts to tackle climate change.”
CO2 is the main culprit in global warming — and in the UK almost a third of these emissions come from power stations. The storage method to be developed at CICCS could cut such CO2 releases to zero in a safe and reliable manner.
The Centre will work on research at the interface of science and engineering, industry and international cooperation in order to accelerate technological innovation in the field and lead to a wider deployment of carbon capture and storage. The Centre will also have a strong programme of knowledge transfer and training with a range of opportunities for industrial engagement.
Dr Maroto-Valer, of the University's School of Chemical and Environmental Engineering, said: “The way we will approach this problem is unique. The CICCS will bring together engineers, mathematicians, bioscientists, geographers, geologists and end-users in a 'hot-house' environment that encourages creative problem-solving.”
The Centre will promote interdisciplinary activity to bring groundbreaking ideas from basic science and develop them into new products, processes and services, as well as consider public acceptability issues.
Within the Centre a new generation of potential academic, industrial and government leaders in carbon capture and storage will be trained with a broad and interdisciplinary set of skills suitable for their future careers in industry, research or government.
One of the technologies that the Centre will work on uses a natural process in conjunction with silicate-based rocks such as serpentine, which is found in large enough quantities, and in the right places, to store all the CO2 produced by the combustion of the entire world's known fossil fuel reserves.
The CO2 extracted from burning coal is put into a reactor with the rocks and through a chemical reaction. The serpentine binds the carbon dioxide to itself, 'locking it in' permanently. This reaction does occur in nature — only far more slowly, taking place over eons of time.
Once the process is fully developed, it is estimated that the locking of CO2 will take place within minutes.
The end product is a mineral such as magnesite, which can be used as aggregates for road-building or shaped into bricks for construction. Carbon dioxide makes up 40 per cent of its weight and it would take 1,500 times more space to store the same amount in gas form.
Compared to other proposed processes for carbon storage, such as burying carbon under the sea, once the CO2 is locked inside the rock by the CICCS process, it is contained for good and cannot go back to its previous state. This is of paramount importance as ensuring the permanent storage of the CO2 has been the most controversial issue in carbon storage.
Moreover, the end result is a commercial product. Fossil fuel power plants could utilise the new process by adding a reactor to their emissions treatment system, allowing CO2 to be turned into a useful building material. The Centre's ultimate goal will be to sign collaborative agreements with power and construction companies to move forward with commercialisation of the technology.
A spokesperson for the EPSRC said: “Established in response to recommendations in the 2004 international review of engineering research in the UK, Challenging Engineering aims to encourage young researchers to develop and lead adventurous projects.
“It seeks to identify and support outstanding researchers at an early stage of their career, to achieve their potential faster through training in creativity and leadership, linking with industry, developing collaborative networks and routes to better exploitation.
“The competition required candidates to present their project proposals creatively and offered the opportunity to demonstrate their ability not only to lead far-reaching research, but also to communicate its importance to the wider world. The EPSRC makes around seven Challenging Engineering awards annually, with a total commitment of £16.3M to date.”
The processes developed by the Centre will also be attractive to oil producers, chemical manufacturers and other energy-intensive industries that have a role to play in helping the UK to meet its 2050 target of 60% reduction below 1990 levels.
More details about CICCS can be found at: http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/carbonmanagement
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