A consortium with energy plant constructor Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems Europe (MHPSE) acting as system integrator is setting up a plant in which carbon dioxide from a coal power plant and hydrogen are converted into methanol.

The 1 MW pilot project will be hosted at the Lünen power plant, Germany, owned by STEAG GmbH. The MefCO2 (Methanol fuel from CO2) project will enable 1.4 tonnes of CO2, which would otherwise be emitted to the atmosphere, to be converted into 1 tonne of methanol per day.
Mitsubishi Hitachi  

The Lünen pilot is essentially a carbon capture and use (CCU) project. Carbon dioxide from the coal fired plant is precipitated from the flue gases in a special downstream flue gas scrubber (post-combustion capture). The power plant’s electricity is used to decompose water into hydrogen and oxygen in an electrolysis unit. Carbon dioxide and hydrogen are then converted into standard methanol in a methanol synthesis unit.

An international cooperative venture comprising a number of firms and research institutions have come together to develop the project. Belgian company Hydrogenics supplies the electrolysis unit and Carbon Recycling International (CRI, Iceland) the methanol synthesis. Also involved is Duisburg-Essen University, whose CO2 scrubber at the power plant site has demonstrated its operating efficiency. The Hydrogenics and CRI technologies are in use commercially but not in the configuration planned for Lünen.

Other partners include Genoa University, Cardiff University, the Catalysis Institute (Slovakia) and I-deals (Spain). MHPSE will be responsible for the integration and constructing the plant. In fact MHPSE was a supplier for the post combustion capture unit that was originally installed at the site to demonstrate CCS.

“The technology not only provides a method of converting CO2 to a valuable industrial product, it also offers a way of essentially storing surplus electricity from wind and solar,” said Professor Emmanouil Kakaras, Head of Innovation and New Products at MHPSE. Methanol can also be simply admixed with petrol and diesel and by way of standard operations processed into various motor fuels.

Although a tried-and-tested process, direct methanol synthesis has not as yet been used in combination with a utility power plant and under load-flexible operation. Prof. Kakaras says the reason for this is that in the past, the power industry was focused on total decarbonization through CCS. However, with the issues surrounding CO2 sequestration, the company believes the technology has a real chance. “There are other alternatives for carbon re-use, but carbon to methanol is one of the most promising and will be among the first movers because it is close to market.”

Lünen MefCO2 is a four-year project, funded as part of a public-private partnership (PPP) initiative called SPIRE (Sustainable Process Industry through Resource and Energy Efficiency). Some 80 per cent of the project’s €11 million cost will be covered by the European Union under its “Horizon 2020” research programme.

The ground-breaking ceremony for the demonstration plant is scheduled for 2016. Operations will start during 2017. Once the facility has proven it can operate in a commercial setting, the next step will be scaling up. In parallel with developing the Lünen project, MHPSE has the responsibility for designing a full industrial-scale 50 MW facility. And looking further ahead, installations of up to 200 MW can be implemented relatively rapidly and efficiently operated, adds Prof. Kakaras. A plant of this size would produce up to 180,000 t of methanol a year and eliminate 260,000 t of CO2.