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New membrane technology for Post-Combustion Carbon Capture begins pilot-scale test

A new carbon capture technology sponsored by the US Department of Energy (DOE) for economically capturing 90% of the carbon dioxide emitted from a coal-burning power plant has begun pilot-scale testing. The Polaris membrane system, developed by Membrane Technology and Research Inc. (MTR), uses a specially designed CO2-selective membrane—a micro-porous film that acts as a semi-permeable barrier—to separate CO2 from other gases, such as nitrogen, in a coal-burning plant’s flue gas.

The project, managed by the DOE Office of Fossil Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), is the largest-scale CO2 membrane technology in the Department’s research portfolio and has the potential to support the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants while minimizing the increase in electricity price.

Cost-effective carbon capture and storage from fossil-based power generation has been cited by some national and international experts as a critical component for arresting the rise in atmospheric CO2 concentrations.

The Polaris system is 10 times more permeable to CO2 than conventional gas-separation membranes. That means the membrane area can be reduced, cutting down the cost and size of the system. In addition, the membrane system does not use hazardous chemicals, so there are no emissions or disposal issues; it uses less water than other capture technologies; and the membrane has no moving parts.

Post-combustion carbon capture has presented unique challenges for researchers. Membrane Technology and Research’s CO2-separation technology has been designed to address risks associated with carbon capture, at a lower cost and footprint than other conventional systems.

—José Figueroa, NETL federal manager for the project

The MTR membrane separation process has already completed 7,500 hours of small-scale (0.05 megawatt-electric) testing using actual flue gas. Successful testing at pilot scale (1 megawatt-electric) will be a major step toward meeting the Department program’s goal of capturing more than 90% of CO2 from flue gas at a cost of $40 per metric ton of CO2 captured and compressed to 2,200 psig (pounds per square inch gauge).

Pilot-scale testing of the technology, using actual flue gas, is underway at DOE’s National Carbon Capture Center (NCCC) in Wilsonville, Ala., and will continue for 2–3 months. The NCCC, operated by Southern Company Services, includes a post-combustion carbon-capture facility that allows testing and integration of advanced CO2-capture technologies using flue gas from Alabama Power’s Gaston power plant Unit 5—an 880 megawatt pulverized coal unit.

Data from this pilot test will provide the Department, MTR, and their project partners with insights into the next steps required for further scale-up and field tests. The project is being performed in cooperation with the Electric Power Research Institute, Helios-NRG, WorleyParsons, and Babcock & Wilcox. Other collaborators are the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the Prairie Research Institute’s Illinois Sustainable Technology Center and Illinois State Geological Survey, Affiliated Engineers Inc., and City Water, Light and Power.

The technology is part of NETL’s CO2-control technology R&D program, which also includes projects directed at the use of solvents and solid sorbents, as well as other novel approaches for CO2 capture specially designed for power plant applications.



2200 lbs/in*2 sounds pretty intensive with energy in handling flue gases. How does one capture and compress corrosive flue gases and compress them economically.


2mwh per ton of coal by this data source without this equipment.

Assuming an energy penalty to do the work of compression and handling of emissions.

Supposedly this would add about $20 to $30/mwhr to the cost of electricity.


Excellent link.
Many thanks.


Interestingly page 5 of this:

Gives low cost CO2 as the chief restraint to methanation to store energy.

I don't follow all their figures, as on the last page they quote fuel cells as 30% efficient!
In that case the rest of the drive train in fuel cell cars must be miraculously efficient, as you need 50% efficiency to make the miles per kg of hydrogen realistic,


Great technology, but it should be used on waste and biomass combustion - making carbon-negative electricity - and leave coal where it is now.

Thomas Pedersen


They only compress the captured CO2 which should be clean and non-corrosive if it is dry. From the description of of the membrane it seems as if the CO2 stream is dry (far from saturation).

Without pressurization of the flue gas side, the CO2 evacuation pressure must be quite low, which translates into a very large CO2 compressor. I the case of full-scale capture it would require several (many) parallel large-scale compressors.

Negative gauge pressure also leaves the system vulnerable to air ingress.

If they can get the required membrane surface area down far enough (CAPEX and real estate), membranes should be superior to all other carbon capture technologies - and far simpler.

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