DOE invests $12M in novel membrane technology that captures carbon emissions

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Professor Winston Ho and Research Scientist Yang Han next to their membrane test unit  in their research lab.
Professor Winston Ho and Research Scientist Yang Han next to their test unit with a 35-square-meter membrane module located at the bottom of the unit, demonstrating their transformational membrane technology’s ability to capture approximately 1 metric ton of carbon dioxide per day.

Ohio State engineers Yang Han and Winston Ho have been selected to receive $12 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to demonstrate their transformational membrane technology’s ability to capture carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted by cement manufacturing and natural gas power plants.

They lead two of nine projects awarded $45 million in Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management funding last month to advance CO2 capture technologies and help establish the foundation for a successful carbon transport and storage industry. 

“These demonstration and pilot projects bring us one step closer to effective and responsible deployment of carbon management infrastructure necessary to achieve our climate goals, while also providing good paying jobs and health benefits to communities in every corner of the nation,” said Assistant Secretary of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management Brad Crabtree.

Distinguished Professor of Engineering Winston Ho has developed methods to reduce fossil fuel-generated pollution during his extensive former career at Exxon and as an Ohio State faculty member for the past 21 years. He and Han created a membrane that cost-effectively captures at least 95% of the CO2 emitted from industrial gases and power plants.

“Our membrane research focuses on the synthesis of new CO2 carrier molecules with high CO2 sorption capacity, the fabrication of thin-film composite membrane, and the elucidation of facilitated transport mechanism,” said Ho, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and materials science and engineering. “This is foundational to practical applications for CO2 capture from flue gases in cement and natural gas combined cycle (NGCC) power plants and from synthesis gases, including bio-syngas.”

The DOE has supported work by Ho and his team to advance the membrane technology and test its use in electric power generation and industrial sectors with more than $39 million since 2012. Han, a research scientist who has worked with Ho since coming to Ohio State in 2013 where he obtained his doctorate degree in chemical engineering in 2018, is the primary investigator for the two latest DOE projects.

“I am very fortunate to have the opportunity to work with Dr. Yang Han, an outstanding young membrane scientist,” said Ho, the co-investigator for both projects. “His work has made the significant advancement of our transformational membrane technology possible. Undoubtedly, Yang is capable of carrying the torch of our membrane research to the next height.”

The duo have developed continuous processes to fabricate their prototype membranes in a roll-to-roll manner at a width of 21 inches. The membranes are then rolled into spiral-wound membrane modules, each with a membrane area of 35 square meters, in a commercial-size diameter of 8 inches. These membrane and module fabrication processes are readily transferrable to commercial manufacturing, transitioning the technology for commercial deployment.

Decreasing cement manufacturing emissions

For their first project, the Buckeye engineers and their industry partners were selected to receive up to $7 million in DOE funding, plus a $2 million cost share from sustainable building materials manufacturer Holcim US, to design and test a 3-metric ton CO2 per day carbon capture system at a Holcim cement plant in Holly Hill, South Carolina.

Researchers will use the university’s transformational membrane to cost-effectively capture up to 99% of the CO2 from cement kiln gas with at least 95% purity. Purity of the captured gas is key to meet growing demand for quality carbon dioxide. Initial analysis shows capture costs of $29.90 per metric ton of CO2 at 99% capture, lower than the amine absorption technologies used today.

“Our membrane technology makes it possible to capture up to 99% of the carbon emissions from cement manufacturing,” said Han. “The captured carbon dioxide can be stored underground, used to strengthen concrete, or transformed into valuable products. This technology, with its simple operation and minimal utility needs, provides an easy retrofit for cement plants, bringing sustainable building solutions one step closer to reality.”

In addition to Ohio State and Holcim, the project team also includes GTI Energy, who will operate the test unit; Trimeric Corporation, who will perform a techno-economic analysis of the carbon capture technology and an environmental health and safety risk assessment; and Zenith Purification LLC, who will perform membrane quality assurance and control.

Reducing natural gas power plant emissions

Han and Ho will also receive up to $5 million in DOE funding, plus a $1.25 million cost share, to test their engineering-scale carbon capture system for NGCC flue gas at the Wyoming Integrated Test Center (ITC) in Gillette, Wyoming.

Flue gas refers to the combustion exhaust gas produced at fossil fuel power plants. The team plans to modify their 20-metric ton CO2 per day engineering-scale test unit for coal flue gas into a 5-metric ton CO2 per day carbon capture system for natural gas combined cycle flue gas.

“Ohio State’s membrane technology has shown exceptional performance, with promise of capturing 95% of CO2 from the flue gas at a competitive cost of $58.10 per metric ton,” Han explained. “That’s lower than the baseline recovery technology, Shell Cansolv, and other amine absorption technologies.”

Besides Ohio State and ITC, the technical team also includes Trimeric Corporation and Zenith Purification LLC.

The researchers aim to demonstrate a continuous, steady-state operation of their carbon capture systems for a minimum of two months for each project and gather necessary data to further scale up the respective processes.

“These projects move us closer to commercialization of Ohio State’s novel membrane technology, which could take another three to 10 years, and toward achieving the United States’ ambitious goal of a net-zero emissions economy by 2050,” Ho said. “This does not happen overnight and requires continual research effort.”

by Candi Clevenger, College of Engineering Communications, clevenger.87@osu.edu