Accelerating Carbon Capture’s Effectiveness with Digital Technology

June 11, 2024
Several pathways have gained global attention recently as solutions for decarbonization and energy transition challenges, and one attracting massive investment is carbon capture

From renewable energy to emissions and energy efficiency management, a number of pathways have gained attention in recent decades as solutions for the challenges of decarbonization and the global energy transition. 

One of these pathways is carbon capture, which has attracted massive investment in recent years

Worldwide, nearly three dozen carbon capture facilities are already in operation or under construction, and more than 200 additional projects are in the works. Investment in carbon capture, meanwhile, more than doubled from 2022 to 2023 to reach a record $6.4 billion, according to BloombergNEF. By the end of the decade, annual global investment could total up to $400 billion, according to McKinsey

But not all carbon capture is the same. 

Carbon capture can be done either directly at industrial sources or by taking existing carbon dioxide (CO2) out of the atmosphere. Carbon capture from industrial sources is essentially a point-source system that separates high-concentration CO2 from flue gases produced at industrial facilities like steel mills, cement plants, and coal- and gas-fired power plants. This captured CO2 is often compressed and transported via truck or pipeline to be reused in other industrial processes or injected into underground reservoirs for permanent storage. 

Carbon removal, by contrast, is aimed at removing CO2 from the atmosphere that’s already been emitted.

There is a broad range of approaches that fall under the carbon removal umbrella, like natural ideas, such as reforestation and biochar. Another approach is high-tech direct air capture (DAC) chemical processes that pull air directly from the atmosphere and separate the CO2. From here, the CO2 is either stored underground or sequestered through innovative solutions such as rock mineralization

These carbon removal technologies will be essential for hard-to-decarbonize industries such as aircraft transportation or cement to be able to achieve net zero emissions. 

Despite predictions of how carbon capture will help the world reach Net Zero, in recent years, questions have been raised about the scalability and economics of carbon capture systems.

The Key Role of Digital Technology

Regardless of an organization’s approach to carbon capture, carbon capture strategies have one key fact in common – digital technology is critical to making them more efficient and scalable.

To help meet carbon capture goals and achieve net zero by 2050, negative emissions technology, such as DAC, will need to scale dramatically in the coming years. But those efforts are complicated by the fact that this technology requires large amounts of moving air to capture the CO2, and it can be energy-intensive and costly.

In recent years, however, digital technologies have begun to tip the scales in the other direction. 

Digital modeling and simulation tools are helping to drive innovation by ensuring projects meet technical and economic benchmarks before development begins and driving higher energy efficiency in carbon capture and removal technologies. Rigorous cost estimation systems, meanwhile, can reduce the risk associated with the large capital expenditures needed to build carbon capture systems, which will help the technology scale up in the coming years. 

Those modeling and simulation tools, assisted by artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities, are also helping both approaches improve their performance by allowing companies to quickly evaluate hundreds, or even thousands, of possible solvents and project designs. 

By helping to identify the most efficient, economical, and scalable processes, such tools are helping to develop more efficient carbon capture. Industry leaders are even using AI to help extend the life of solvents and discover new materials. For instance, Aramco is using AI and machine learning approaches to speed up material discovery for CO2 capture by setting up computer simulation models to evaluate process designs and establish targets for the development of the most cost-effective CO2-DAC technology.

Advanced digital technologies can also help identify the best subsurface reservoirs for long-term CO2 sequestration or geologic storage. Companies are turning to software solutions that can interpret geological and topological information, select storage locations, and support permit applications. Digital solutions are used to engineer projects, de-risk geological storage, and maximize the volume of CO2 that can be injected.

Benefits of “Born Digital” Projects

As these projects come to life, digital technologies have a massive opportunity to extend the value from design into operations by providing value with a born-digital approach. 

With this approach, digital models are extended across the project lifecycle, allowing operators to improve operations reliability, safety, and efficiency. That digital foundation also simplifies the process of collecting and analyzing critical operational data, allowing operators to gain a clear picture of how systems and assets are performing and make better, more informed decisions. 

For instance, analyzing subsurface seismic data can help accurately track the migration of sequestered CO2. Monitoring can help preserve site integrity and track the movements underground to demonstrate conformance with regulations.

At the same time, other digital tools, like advanced process control, can optimize operations. They can drive OPEX reduction through lower energy consumption and improve the overall stability of carbon capture operations without additional capital investments. And, as renewables are integrated into the grid to help achieve a positive carbon balance, digital grid management solutions will improve reliability and operational efficiency.

Carbon capture and removal technologies can play critical roles in enabling the world to reduce and mitigate emissions, especially for hard-to-abate industries. Digital technology has proven to be an essential tool in accelerating the efficiency and scalability of these projects, whatever their format.

About the Expert

Gerardo Muñoz is Senior Solutions Manager for Sustainability Solutions at AspenTech. He develops the positioning of AspenTech solutions in key sustainability areas, such as hydrogen, CCS, bio-based feedstocks, and plastics circularity. He is also part of the core group leading the sustainability go-to-market strategy for the company and is responsible for aligning the messaging across stakeholders. 

Gerardo has worked at AspenTech since 2010, during which time he was responsible for providing technical guidance and global training on AspenTech products. In 2020, he transferred from AspenTech’s Mexico City office, where he also provided sales support to oil & gas customers in Latin America, to the company’s Bedford, Massachusetts headquarters. 

Prior to joining AspenTech, Gerardo was an alternative fuels analyst. He researched biodiesel and microalgae as alternative sources of energy and designed equipment for carbon capture projects in the cement industry.

Gerardo holds a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Tec de Monterrey in Mexico and a master’s degree in sustainable chemical engineering from Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden.