July 14, 2016

Carbon Capture Options

There have been recent articles about “CarbFix, a pilot program at Iceland’s Hellisheidi Geothermal Power Station utilizing carbon capture and storage (CCS). CO2 gas is pumped underground and leads to its transformation to minerals.  This process eliminates the concern for underground storage sites that will remain stable for a long period of time (i.e. no earthquakes or geological faults are going to occur:  any rupture of underground storage layers would lead to catastrophic release of CO2 that affects the biomass near surface layers.)
Along with this single advantage come a few issues to consider with this approach, including its broader applicability:
(i)                 The geology of the Icelandic underground reserve. The process is intrusive to the natural balance. Per literature estimates, 1 million ton of CO2 would require 1 km3 of basalt reserve.
(ii)               According to literature and assuming the underground storage facility is at the right temperature to ensure fast kinetics per the article claim, a pressure of 200 to 400 bar might be required to drive the storage process.  Formation of carbonates might even make seeping of carbonated water more difficult.  How many kgs of CO2 are released to atmosphere by large capacity pumps per ton of CO2 sequestered underground per cubic meter of Basalt? (This question is moot if the pumps operate using hydrothermal power).
(iii)             Water requirements. What volume of Icelandic water is required to dissolve 1 ton of CO2 gas where the pH of the water is a crucial factor in getting the maximum dissolution of CO2 gas?    If the process uses saline water or seawater, then implications to underground mineral water contamination have to be considered.
(iv)             The process is localized to the Icelandic territory. Most coal fired power plants or other CO2 emitting industrial facilities do not have the advantage of an underground basalt reserve, which became transformed to their present state from other minerals that already lost their CO2 content due to thermally elevated conditions above ground or underground.
Compared to other carbon capture and conversion processes (i.e. Carbon Capture and Mineralization (CCM) or Carbon Capture and Utilization (CCU)), the Icelandic project is expected to handle a much greater quantity of CO2 conversion at a minimum power loss. There are few industrial CCM and CCU processes that are either under pilot test or production stage that claim CO2 capture. If these facilities are powered by fossil fuel, then these cannot claim any carbon capture. Examples of these CCM/CCU processes are modified Solvay, Chlor-alkali, urea, polymerization, pilot electrochemical processes, and others.  The major advantage over the CCS basalt project is that the end products are usually commodity chemicals used for commercial purposes.  Finally, one process that uses membrane/ion exchange technology to process alkaline waste from industrial sites can compete with CCS basalt project in terms of energy and chemical byproducts.
Another trend that is getting serious consideration by scientists around the world is CO2 gas conversion to carbon monoxide (CO) gas and other basic precursors heavily used as start-up chemicals in chemical industry. That is, recycle CO2 gas instead of losing it to underground storage. A major hurdle in this regard is energy consumption, and scientists are searching for a breakthrough. A multibillion dollar CCU recycle process that is not CCM can have a major contribution to CCS technology at the global scale with world geopolitics. However, this topic will require a separate discussion.

The author of this blog post has a Ph.D. in Analytical Chemistry and is the inventor in 10 patents. His experience includes research in carbon capture, cartridge membrane mineral concentrators, semiconductor, metal, and ceramic surface cleaning and functionalization with surface coatings.   Click to read more about this technical expert. 

Since 1985, CECON has been placing experts in over 200 scientific disciplines.  CECON Consultants also include Chemical Safety Experts, Nanotechnology Experts, FDA Regulatory Expertsand Polymers& Coatings Experts.

May 17, 2016

Hazard Identification: The Mitigation Hierarchy and Human Interface

Hazard Identified; What Next?

As we’ve discussed in recent articles, once a hazard is identified as legitimate, it needs to be mitigated.  A time-tested approach is what is known as The Industrial Hierarchy of Controls. While effective if applied properly, we must consider the human interface when utilizing the hierarchy of controls. A quick refresher of the hierarchy of controls will remind us that it is historically comprised of 4 components: Substitute/Eliminate, Engineer, Administrate and PPE. Depending upon what it is we’re trying to control, any one component could be effective, or a combination might be called for to mitigate the hazard.

Initially, when using the hierarchy, we would prefer to substitute or eliminate the hazard if possible. Eliminating is obviously the simpler action. Let’s say we have a board with protruding nails laying in a walkway. We don’t need the board for the completion of our task, so we simply remove the nails and discard or re-use the board, thus eliminating the hazard.

Now, let’s say we’ve been using a particular cleaning compound. A revised MSDS reveals that it contains a carcinogenic component in its composition. Not wanting to expose anyone to the chemical hazard, we now have to determine how to control that hazard. We need to use a cleaner in order to complete our task. The question now is, How? A bit of research finds that there are several other cleaners that perform as well, but they have no carcinogens in their composition. In this case we can opt to substitute a new, hazard-free cleaner for the old cleaner and complete the task as desired.

To Engineer a hazard control may take a group of professionals with specific skill sets. Depending upon how complex the hazard control may be, it’s possible that you may require certain experts in a particular field, or simply a creative individual with a practical solution. Using an example from my own work history, let’s solve an excessive noise issue. In a compressor building, we had monitored SPL’s of 121dba. That is loud by anyone’s standards! Even with double hearing protection, the long-term effects on workers were undesirable. Our solution needed to be the best in terms of long-term performance and protecting our employees. An assessment revealed that the manifold/muffler systems used on the 2-cycle, gas-burning engines produced a harmonic conducive to extreme sound levels at the RPM’s the engines operated at. After consulting with numerous specialists, the determination was to install new, quieter manifold/muffler systems on the engines and use sound-deadening, portable barriers during maintenance work. What we did was use a combination of substitute and engineer to control the hazard.

Sometimes, it’s a matter of removing people as opposed to removing a hazard, to arrive at the best solution for hazard control. During summer months when temperatures are highest (and employees working outside are most exposed to heat stress) many companies will arrange work schedules to compensate for the heat. It may simply be a matter of having employees arrive earlier in the day, or working later at night to remove them from the exposure to the hazard of heat stress. In this case, the best hazard control is administrative.
Finally, we arrive at what has been considered the last control in the hierarchy. PPE is the only control that is always utilized in the workplace. While the other controls can either be combined or used exclusively, PPE is always used with any of the other controls. While selection of PPE will be determined by the level of hazard exposure, most employers require a minimum of ANSI-spec hard-hat, safety glasses, gloves and safety boots/shoes for any task undertaken at their workplace.  PPE is considered by many Safety professionals to be the last step in any risk assessment. The logic being, if you’ve done a proper assessment and utilized the hierarchy of controls effectively, then theoretically, PPE should not have to be called upon to protect the worker. In simpler terms, if your PPE kept you from getting hurt, it’s possible that you didn’t conduct a thorough risk assessment.

The Human Interface – A Benefit or a Detriment?

While the hierarchy of controls can be a wonderful Safety tool, it only is as effective as the individuals utilizing it. Sounds logical, but let’s start factoring in human elements. Such things as fatigue, distraction, lack of training, rushing (getting in a hurry), poor communication, or lack of/poor supervision (leadership!) among others, can all contribute to less-than-effective hazard control. A workplace can have the best safety processes in place, but if the end-user (the worker) is not mentally engaged in that process, it may be all for naught.  So, what to do?

Since we’re now dealing with human interface, we introduce other human factors. Such factors as: empowerment, positive reinforcement, proper communication, personal intervention and coaching/teaching. All these are proactive human factors and are critical when countering the afore-mentioned detrimental factors. The secret to using these proactive factors is simple; use them consistently and without fail. Many in the Safety profession (this author included) believe a fifth step should be formally added to the hierarchy of controls. That would be the personal assessment. While many agree that a last-minute risk assessment such as Take 2, Step Back 5x5 and SPSA are all part of a worker’s daily routine, a personal assessment should consist of additional human factors, not just task-specific concerns. Once again, the only way a worker will arrive at such a mindset will be via effective leadership. A fully-engaged worker will be a safe worker and a safe worker requires Safety Leadership to become fully-engaged.

Founded in 1985, CECON LLC specializes in providing science and engineering consultants and expert witnesses. Consultants in their global network typically have more than 25 years of experience; CECON offers consultants in more than 200 disciplines, including pharmaceutical development and regulatory compliancechemical processing and safety, oil & gasbiotechnologymedical devicesnanotechnology, and polymers and coatings.

For details, visit www.cecon.com or call 302-994-8000.