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ECRA’s research on carbon capture in the cement industry – part 1

World Cement,

For more than five years ECRA has been working on carbon capture research with a strong focus on the technical and economic feasibility of this technology. This long-term research project is currently in its fourth phase and the possibility of initiating an industrial-scale oxyfuel kiln is being examined. Opportunity studies for two potential sites are in preparation and will enable the Technical Advisory Board of ECRA to decide whether and how to proceed towards such a demonstration plant. ECRA benefits from its cooperation with the Norcem Brevik plant in Norway where different post capture technology providers test their equipment under realistic conditions. In addition, the ECRA academic chair, founded at the University of Mons in 2013, is an excellent source for findings from fundamental research in CO2 capture and the different options for its reuse.

Most of the work packages in phase IV.A of ECRA’s CCS project, “Further optimisation of an oxyfuel plant” have been finalised. The packages focused on a simulation study, an advanced cooler design, future oxygen supply and the experimental verification of the sealing potential. These work packages were intended to answer remaining questions, which had arisen from the CCS project so far and prepare all necessary information for a potential next step towards a pilot plant.

An additional main focus was placed on a concept for an industrial-scale oxyfuel kiln, including its design, dimensioning and safety aspects. In particular, the question of the right size was to be answered, as well as where the plant could preferably be located and how it could be built.

Steps towards an oxyfuel kiln

The outcome of its CCS project phases and work packages so far puts ECRA in the position to decide whether, and, if yes, under which circumstances this potential pilot kiln could be constructed. Against this background the Technical Advisory Board of ECRA agreed to proceed with the project stepwise and to identify a few potential sites at which such a kiln could in principal be built. Based on this, the concept for a pilot kiln will then be elaborated in considerably more detail, in particular with much more accurate cost estimates, as current estimates have been based on retrofitting existing equipment, which for many reasons will not be the best technical or economic approach.

Based on the work carried out, the optimum plant size is thought to be between 500 and 1000 tpd, depending on the specific site. In order to prepare ECRA for discussions with funding organisations such as the European Commission, the costs for such a kiln were estimated, taking into account not only the investment but also the expenditure for the test phase, i.e. the operation of the kiln. The major driver of the operational costs is oxygen, while the investment costs strongly depend on the plant environment and the equipment that needs to be installed or needs to be modified. In total, the budget required for a 500-tpd testing facility is between €40 – 60 million, with an estimated uncertainty of ± 25%.

These very high costs, not only for the demonstration kiln but for any full-scale oxyfuel kiln, constitute difficult circumstances for the future implementation of such a technology in the cement industry. While ECRA would be able to answer technical and economic questions, political guidance is necessary in order not to undermine the competitiveness of the plants that might apply such a technology. 

This is part one of a two-part article originally published in Newsletter 1/2015 of the European Cement Research Academy and is reproduced by kind permission of ECRA. Read part two here.

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