Japanese company says used with biomass plant, negative net emissions achievable

Mitsubishi Heavy’s carbon capture facility in Texas is the largest of its kind in the world. (Photo courtesy of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries)

TOKYO — Mitsubishi Heavy Industries has ramped up construction of carbon capture plants in markets beyond Japan, refining technologies it has worked on for three decades as the fight against climate change intensifies.

The Japanese company began a trial run last month of such a plant at a biomass power station operated by the U.K.-based Drax Group in North Yorkshire. If successful, the combination of plant-based fuel and carbon capture could enable negative net emissions, Mitsubishi Heavy said.

Mitsubishi Heavy is focusing its carbon capture operations overseas as environmental regulations are strengthened around the world, particularly in Europe. It looks to leverage the relative abundance of big power plants outside Japan to tackle the cost and efficiency challenges that have long dogged the technology.

The company has delivered 14 carbon capture facilities in markets including Europe, the U.S., Southeast Asia and India, and more are under construction in Russia and Bangladesh.

The Mitsubishi Heavy group has worked since the 1990s with Osaka-based utility Kansai Electric Power to develop technology for recovering carbon dioxide emissions from fossil-fuel plants. The project with Drax, led by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Engineering, marks the first use of the technology with a biomass plant.

The facility will run for a year, capturing 300 kg of carbon dioxide per day. The technology eventually could achieve 16 million tons of net negative emissions yearly at the power station, one-third of the reduction needed from bioenergy carbon capture to meet the U.K.’s 2050 target of zero emissions.

Mitsubishi Heavy aims to commercialize the technology by 2027 and targets net-zero carbon emissions in 2030.

The company’s carbon capture plants absorb emissions using a nitrogen-rich liquid solvent, which is heated with steam to separate the carbon dioxide and enable the solvent to be reused. Its main solvent, co-developed with Kansai Electric, can absorb more than 90% of carbon dioxide from an emissions stream.

The North Yorkshire pilot project will use this along with a newer solvent, also jointly developed, that is slower to degrade and can be reused more effectively, making the process less costly. The compact, mobile equipment used in this system can be installed with relative ease at even small power plants.

Mitsubishi Heavy also is working on applications for trapped carbon.

In 2017, the company started the world’s largest post-combustion carbon capture system in Texas. The absorbed carbon dioxide is sent through a pipeline to an oil field, where it is injected into the ground to help extract more crude oil than the 20% to 30% available through normal means — a form of what is known as enhanced oil recovery.

The Mitsubishi Heavy group in March launched a domestic test of technology to synthesize methanol using carbon captured from a Hokkaido facility.

Courtesy of AZUSA KAWAKAMI, Nikkei staff writer