In this blog series, which is part of our recently launched Sustainability Hub, we’re speaking to chemical engineers across the world making a difference to make sustainable practices and products a reality and more accessible to all for the wider benefit of our society and globe.
To mark Earth Day today (22 April 2022) in this blog, Dr Mauro Luberti explains the two different gas separation processes he’s using and explains the specialised laboratory equipment he’s developed to predict separation performance of adsorption processes. He’s also looking at ways to capture carbon dioxide more efficiently from power and hydrogen plants, and the importance of decarbonising these industrial sectors.
Name: Dr Mauro Luberti
Job title and organisation: Lecturer in Chemical Engineering at the University of Manchester, UK
IChemE role: Individual Case Procedure (ICP) Reviewer
Bio: Chartered Chemical Engineer Dr Mauro Luberti was recently appointed as a Lecturer in Chemical Engineering at the University of Manchester, UK. Prior to that he worked as a Researcher and University Teacher at the University of Edinburgh, UK. His expertise is on the design, simulation and optimisation of solvent- and adsorption-based processes applied to carbon dioxide (CO2) removal and hydrogen purification. He has authored 27 publications in high impact journals and had one invention patented and registered with world extension.
Tell us briefly what your research into reducing energy consumption is about and where this could be used?
My research focusses on the reduction of energy consumption associated with carbon capture and hydrogen purification processes in order to improve the plant efficiency and make these industrial sectors sustainable for the environment.
In the field of carbon capture from power plants, I showed that process modifications in the CO2 removal unit could be beneficial to improve state-of-art solvent-based technologies. In particular, compared to the base case scenario, these modifications would enable significant energy savings in the process (up to 37%), thus reaching 2.2 megajoules of thermal energy per kilogram of captured CO2.
I’ve also investigated different configurations for adsorption-based processes still with the aim to capture CO2. In a pressure swing adsorption (PSA) cycle we exploit a porous adsorbent that is capable of selectively retaining CO2 over the other gases. In a following step, nearly pure CO2 is obtained by reducing the pressure. In this context, I’ve designed a PSA unit to treat the flue gas effluent of a biomass-fueled plant. The results of this study highlighted the competitiveness of adsorption-based technologies (0.8 megajoules of electric energy per kilogram of captured CO2) in comparison with the solvent-based technologies in terms of specific energy consumption.
More recently, my work has also focused on the production of ultrapure hydrogen (99.99+%) with CO2 capture in order to decarbonize hydrogen plants. Hydrogen will play a key role in the future low-carbon energy society but its production needs to become sustainable in light of the recent international directives aimed to reduce CO2 emissions. This hydrogen manufacturing route is of high relevance in countries like China, India, and other large emitting economies in South East Asia where chemical and energy industries account for an important share of global greenhouse gas emissions.
In addition, I’ve aimed to validate PSA simulations using an experimental rig built at the University of Edinburgh, UK. This set up is a first-of-its-kind in allowing us to determine the separation performance indicators of different types of processes, paving the way to more realistic techno-economic assessments for these kind of technologies.
Tell us how you came up with this concept or what made you decide to investigate carbon dioxide capture and hydrogen production?
In recent years climate change has become the most pressing issue that the world is facing, mainly due to greenhouse gas emissions, the chief of which is represented by CO2.
Therefore, as chemical engineers, we have an imperative to make our plants more sustainable by reducing CO2 emissions and its associated energy consumption. Hence, my research vocation to focus on efficient carbon capture technologies applied to both power and industrial sectors.
What is unique about your project and how do you feel it is making a positive difference to SDG 7: affordable and clean energy? Why do you feel it is important for chemical engineers to play their part in delivering a more sustainable world?
My research is intrinsically related to what makes a wealthy and modern society, ie, energy and industries. Thus, trying to make these sectors more efficient will have a positive and direct repercussion on the life of everyone.
If chemical engineers were responsible for shaping the society as we know it today, we will have the same level of responsibility and competence to lay the foundations for the low-carbon and more sustainable society of the future.
Visit our Sustainability Hub to learn about others making a difference in our Sustainability success stories. There you can also access a suite of new on-demand training courses and knowledge resources to embed sustainable principles and practices into everyday work and life.