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Copper used to combat climate change

Published by , Digital Assistant Editor
World Coal,

Researchers at the Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) believe copper may play an important role in combatting climate change. When used as a part of a promising coal combustion technology known as chemical looping, copper can help economically remove carbon dioxide from fossil fuel emissions.

In traditional power plants, coal is pulverised and then burned in air to create the steam that powers electricity-producing turbines. In chemical looping, the fuel is combusted through reaction with oxygen carriers. After combustion, the oxygen-depleted carrier is circulated to an air reactor, where it is again oxidised, in preparation for transport back to the fuel reactor to begin a new coal-burning cycle.

One of the advantages of chemical looping is that the process produces a nearly pure exhaust stream of CO2, which is easily captured. The CO2 can then be used to produce other products. The chemical looping process can also help reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides. However, for chemical looping on a commercial scale, more efficient oxygen carriers are required. When copper is used as a key ingredient in oxygen carriers, it appears to improve the efficiency of chemical looping.

NETL’s Ranjani Siriwardane explained:.“In our tests, a copper-based oxygen carrier was prepared and used in the chemical looping process,” she said. “It showed good solid circulation, good methane conversion and good heat management.”

The possibility of using copper as an oxygen carrier has always been limited by copper’s low melting point, which results in these carriers accumulating at high temperatures.

Siriwardane said the NETL breakthrough came when researchers were able to design a mixed metal oxygen carrier containing iron oxide and a high concentration of copper oxide to create a highly reactive oxygen carrier that can withstand high temperatures, eliminating agglomeration problems.

Tests on the oxygen carrier were conducted in a pilot scale chemical looping combustor unit at NETL.

“We conducted the tests at around 800 and 900°C. What we found was the design we developed can function in a chemical looping reactor more efficiently than traditional oxygen carriers,” Siriwardane said. “It takes us closer to the possibility of deploying chemical looping on a large scale as a less expensive way to reduce CO2 emissions.”

NETL researchers have applied for a patent on the new approach. The next step in its development will be testing at commercial scale.

Edited from press release by

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