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NETL-Led Project Offers Prospect of Cutting Carbon Capture Cost



By Nicholas Woodroof

January 11, 2019 - A computational modeling project led by the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) has identified membrane materials that will make carbon capture more affordable for coal-fired power plants, reducing the cost to less than US$50 per metric tonne of carbon dioxide (CO2) removed.

NETL’s Jan Steckel, Ph.D., worked with Chris Wilmer, Ph.D., of the University of Pittsburgh, and NETL colleagues Olukayode Ajayi, Ph.D., and Samir Budhathoki to model the cost of carbon capture for more than 1 million hypothetical mixed matrix membrane (MMM) materials using powerful computational tools. Their work is highlighted in the latest edition of the journal Energy and Environmental Science. Membrane-based CO2 capture uses permeable or semi-permeable materials that allow for the selective transport and separation of CO2 from flue gas. The computational modeling project focused on MMMs that incorporate porous nanoparticles, known as metal-organic frameworks, into the matrix of a sturdy polymer to enhance selectivity and permeability. The team leveraged NETL’s computational capabilities to connect atomistic simulations to techno-economic analyses of the membrane-based carbon capture process. Their efforts identified the best combinations of polymers and nanoparticles to make novel membranes with outstanding properties for carbon capture.

The techno-economic analyses indicated that 1153 of more than 1 million MMMs could reduce the cost of carbon capture to less than US$50 per metric tonne of CO2 removed — within reach of the US Department of Energy’s goal of US$40 or less for pulverised coal plants. The results highlighted the importance of incorporating the right metal-organic framework to complement a particular polymer. “It was exciting to find that there are so many combinations of polymers and metal-organic frameworks that have the potential to make a dramatic reduction in carbon capture cost,” Steckel said. “Many of the promising metal-organic frameworks identified in our screening were published years ago, but nobody has been investigating them for carbon capture.”

“This work is a great accomplishment for NETL. We have predicted membrane technologies, using integrated models at scales spanning atoms through technoeconomics, that will change the future of membrane-based carbon capture,” said Bryan Morreale, Executive Director of NETL’s Research and Innovation Center. “The Lab’s multi-scale computational capabilities, combined with strategic partnerships including Chris Wilmer and the University of Pittsburgh in this work, will continue to push the rate of discovery, development and deployment of technologies that will change the future of energy for the US.”


NETL will rely on the project’s results to focus and refine ongoing efforts to develop membranes that effectively capture CO2 at an affordable cost.