ExxonMobil to build CCS pilot plant using carbonate fuel cell technology

Article by Kerry Hebden

ESSO Nederland, an affiliate of ExxonMobil, plans to build a pilot carbon capture plant at its Rotterdam Manufacturing Complex to test the performance and commercial operability of carbonate fuel cell (CFC) technology. Jointly developed with FuelCell Energy, the firms say the breakthrough technology could significantly reduce CO2 emissions from key industries.  

FuelCell Energy’s CFCs capture CO2 and other gases from industrial sources before they are released into the atmosphere. Membranes in CFCs collect CO2 more efficiently and in greater concentrations than their amine-based solvent counterparts, FuelCell Energy said, meaning the CO2 can be easily collected, then sold, sequestered, or used on site for other industrial purposes. 

The Rotterdam integrated manufacturing site will be the first in the world to pilot this technology, according to ExxonMobil, which has been working with FuelCell Energy since 2016 on various design aspects of the CFC.  

CFCs work by feeding exhaust flue gases from a coal- or gas-fired system into the cathode side of the fuel cell. The CO2 is then transferred to the anode side, where it becomes concentrated and easier to separate.  

CO2 from the anode exhaust stream is purified by chilling the stream to extract CO2 liquid. Purified CO2 can then be transported by pipeline for underground storage or used in a variety of applications such as beverage bottling, meat processing, or aid in the production of cement and plastics. 

As the flue gas stream passes through the air electrode channels, the cell can also destroy around 70% of any nitrogen oxide (NOx) in it. NOx emissions contribute to the formation of smog and acid rain, and are one of the main components in the formation of ground-level ozone, which can trigger serious respiratory problems. 

The CFCs are also modular, scalable, and instead of using power to capture CO2, they produce power. Conventional carbon capture technologies consume about 20% of a plant’s overall power output, say FuelCell Energy, but CFCs use molten carbonate salts as an electrolyte to convert captured gases into electricity via electrochemical reactions. In addition, they output hydrogen and water as byproducts. In some applications, fuel cells can generate more clean water than they consume, the firm said. 

Pending a successful demonstration, the technology could be deployed at ExxonMobil's manufacturing sites around the world. 

Jason Few, FuelCell Energy’s CEO said: “FuelCell Energy and ExxonMobil believe that capturing carbon at the source is an efficient way to decarbonise heavy industry. This technology can capture carbon and produce electricity simultaneously, making it a game-changer in the industry.” 

The pilot project is co-funded by the European Union under the Emissions Trading System Innovation Fund, and by a Demonstration Energy and Climate Innovation (DEI+) grant from the Netherlands Enterprise Agency. 

Article by Kerry Hebden

Staff reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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