Nuada: A Step-Change for Commercial Carbon Capture
Carbon capture will be vital for a green economy but current technologies have stifled progress. Dr Conor Hamill, Co-CEO at MOF Technologies explains why a novel system called Nuada is poised to revolutionise the way industry manages its emissions.
The exact route to net zero may still be up for debate but carbon capture (CC) will be central to any realistic plan. Some believe it discourages the use of greener fuels, yet the most recent data from renewable energy forum REN21 leaves the situation beyond doubt. In 2019, coal, oil and gas still accounted for 80.2% of the total energy mix, representing a drop of 0.1% from 2009. Emissions, however, will not just be down to power generation but also other industries like cement where clinker-based production cannot be changed easily without significant disruption to global supply.
It's clear current demand cannot be met without some continuation of current practices, not least because a drastic, unmanaged transition would be far too damaging. Indeed, the main draw for CC is its feasibility, providing businesses in hard-to-abate sectors with a practical means to cut carbon while also maintaining a level of output needed for growth. The potential savings are also impressive. The International Energy Agency, for example, estimates that CC projects could help reduce global carbon emissions by almost a fifth and lower the cost of tackling the climate crisis by 70%. Savings of that kind are often based on long-term projections but game-changing technology like that offered by Nuada is helping to cut the timecales.
Some of the most recognisable names in heavy industry have started to take note of CC. Mining giant Rio Tinto announced plans to deploy the technology at an aluminium smelt in Iceland, while the UK government signed off two multi-billion-pound schemes backed by several oil majors in the north of England. Arguably the most important development, however, comes from the Global Cement and Concrete Association, which has pledged to build 10 industrial-scale CC projects by 2030. This is a significant moment as the cement industry accounts for roughly 8% of the world’s carbon emissions.
These initiatives are welcomed, though the fact they’re only just being rolled out hints at the difficulties around current approaches to CC. Critics argue these problems are just another convenient excuse for companies unwilling to change their operating models in any meaningful way. But that idea is misplaced. Even the Global CC Institute acknowledges the greatest challenge to wider deployment is a lack of commercial incentives.
"Amine scrubbing can take as much as 3.4 GJ/ton of CO2 removed – a huge portion of a facility’s total output."
Part of this is down to the industry’s unfamiliarity with CC. While the technology is proven in principle, its application has been very limited, leaving businesses with few use cases to justify investment. The perceived risk is only made worse by current capturing practices that mainly rely on amine solvent treatment. This method is decades-old and has proven itself to be highly effective in some areas, but its benefits are ultimately undermined by a cripplingly high energy penalty. Studies have found it can take as much as 3.4 GJ/ton of CO2 removed – a huge portion of a facility’s total output.
This is a stumbling block that few organisatons have been able to overcome, especially in competitive markets where the margins are already fine. Beyond this, amine scrubbing is also held back by a large infrastructure footprint and high capital outlay needed at each facility. This not only drives up the overall cost but also makes it harder to convince decision-makers that CC is a worthwhile exercise.
A Revolution for CC
In some ways these issues are immaterial. First, there’s increased scrutiny on the carbon tax credits scheme that will make it harder for businesses to delay action on emissions, not to mention other legislative pressure from governments in every major market. Secondly, there’s a now a far better method for CC that circumvents the use of amine and slashes the amount of energy needed to process the gas from flue streams by up to 80%.
This ultra-efficient system, called Nuada, has been developed by the team behind MOF Technologies and is poised to revolutionise the CC market. Its unparalleled performance is driven by vaccum pressure swing adsorption technology coupled with a MOF-based filter that has been specifically designed to capture and remove CO2.
MOFs, or metal-organic frameworks, are highly engineered filters that use bespoke chemistry to target, capture and remove specific gases like CO2. It’s this selectivity combined with the ability to regenerate with minimal energy input that gives Nuada such promise – not least for key industrial processes where cost-effective CC is now sorely needed.
"The benefits of this system are profound with some projections showing up to $1 billion saved over the course of a plant’s lifetime – and that’s before taking the carbon tax into account."
Deployment is another area where Nuada is set to positively disrupt the current CC market. Unlike traditional approaches, this new system is modular, meaning it can be easily connected to a facility’s waste gas line without extensive redesign or installation work. These units can then be scaled up or down according to demand, giving businesses a non-invasive and far more cost-effective means of CC. The benefits of this system are profound with some projections showing up to $1 billion saved over the course of a plant’s lifetime – and that’s before taking the carbon tax into account.
If commercial incentives are the main barrier to CC then Nuada’s system represents a real step-change for virtually any industry looking to capture CO2. The energy savings make the cost of each project far more enticing for investors, while also allowing businesses to continue production without falling foul of emissions targets. Use of this MOF-based solution also makes the process of isolating CO2 more straightforward, allowing what’s stored to be sold on to secondary markets for a profit.
This final point is important because cheap, abundant access to useable CO2 has been lacking, but it’s also the crucial first step needed to unlock other parts of the CCU value chain. Given that Nuada can offer capture costs as low as $16 per ton of CO2, it’s not unreasonable to predict a period of significant progress once it becomes a staple across heavy industry.
Find out more about Nuada carbon capture technology