Central London CCS plant instrumented by ABB

On 19 April, Veli-Matti Reinikkala, president of ABB Process Automation, and Prof Andrew Livingston, head of the chemical engineering department at Imperial College, London, formally opened an industrial scale carbon capture pilot plant, which makes significant use of remote and wireless technologies. The result of a three year GBP10m ($15m) project, the chemical separation columns extend up through four floors within the chemical engineering faculty building, and will be used for teaching, research, development work with industrial partners, technology display and customer demonstrations/training.  The agreement between ABB and Imperial College to create this facility is based on a history of over 20 years of co-operation, formalized in 2004 into a strategic alliance, which then led in 2007 to joint sponsorship by ABB with the Royal Academy of Engineering of a Chair in Process Automation at the College. This further project represents an initial investment of around GBP1m ($1.5m) by ABB, supplemented with a 10 year agreement to support the facility: ABB will also provide a series of sponsorships and summer placements for Imperial’s chemical engineering undergraduates, probably at their main execution centres for oil, gas and petrochemical automation in St Neots, Cambridgeshire, but also in the measurement products factories in the UK, or even in Brisbane, Australia.

Showcase for ABB technology

“The pilot plant is a global showcase for the latest and best process control and instrumentation technology in use at one of the world’s leading engineering institutions,” said Martin Grady, ABB general manager for oil, gas and petrochemical in the UK. “We will be able to trial new technology in a low risk, well-managed environment to gather Beta site test data. It also gives ABB a great platform to train its staff and customers on a real pilot plant. Quite simply, there are very few industrial companies that have utilised all the leading-edge technology that Imperial College is featuring within this pilot plant.”

The plant uses a wide range of instrumentation, analyzers, drives, motors and process automation equipment from ABB – there are over 250 sensors on the plant. The control room, equipped with an ABB Extended Operator Workplace (EOW), and the ABB System 800xA DCS, provides students with hands-on experience of pilot-scale industrial plant operations: it is the only facility of its kind in an academic institution in the world. In recognition of ABB’s support for the new carbon capture pilot plant, Imperial has named this hi-tech centre-piece of the installation the “ABB Control Room” – even going so far as having large ABB letters woven into the carpet. Split into two parts, with two large and four smaller displays in each section, these can operate as simulated separate control rooms, for example taking the roles of an on-site facility on one side, and a remote supervisory base on the other side.

Central London location

Having such a facility in the centre of London, in South Kensington, next door to the Science Museum and a few blocks from the City, is a fantastic exhibit for ABB. It is also a very significant investment for Imperial College, and will be the focus of the chemical engineering department activity for many years. With extensive instrumentation, including duplicated flowmeters to demonstrate the eight different flow measurement technologies available, and also featuring networking systems like Profibus DP and PA, Foundation Fieldbus, HART 4-20mA and WirelessHART: teaching and experience of instrumentation and control will be another major topic for students. During the demonstration of the facility, the students were using commercial iPad systems with Wi-Fi to call up plant information and operating data when out on the plant, but the lecturers did stress that these were not devices that they recommended for on-site use!

Plant construction

The plant was designed by Strata Technology of Sunbury-on-Thames, and uses two 10 metre high columns, fitted with viewing windows, and extensive instrumentation from ABB. It also includes the latest in wireless technology from ABB, and technical advances in pump and heat exchanger technology. The capture process involves absorbing carbon dioxide gas into a liquid amine stream in an absorber column fitted with random packing and transferring to a stripper column containing a structured packing of trays and within which the carbon dioxide is desorbed at high temperatures.  In this demonstration pilot plant the desorbed carbon dioxide is recycled back to the absorber column. Initial research will concentrate on evaluating the energy efficiency available with different amine stream liquids.

The plant was built by Tecno Project Industriale of Italy, installed and commissioned in February 2012 in conjunction with JMS and Charter Tech. One of the slight problems was that being in the middle of the building, the plant sections and skids had to pass through a specially widened 2.1m doorway, so the max skid width was specified at 2.05m: naturally on arrival the width was checked and found to be 2.15m, but this did not hold up the construction work(!)

Necessarily, the plant is subject to the same stringent safety requirements as any real-life industrial process. Certain critical out-of-range or emergency situations have been identified and are monitored with SIL rated sensors as part of the TÜV certified safety system included within the 800xA control system, to provide alarms and guard against (1) asphyxiation caused by leaking gases, (2) dangerous high or low liquid levels or pressures in the columns, and (3) overheating. Automatic shutdown routines are initiated if no corrective action is taken from the control room consoles.

ABB energy harvesting

An advantage for ABB is that the pilot plant provides a useful Beta-test and demo site for new instrumentation. One of the major true innovations in this field, first seen as a prototype at the ABB Automation and Power World US event in 2010 (INSIDER June 2010 page 3), was a WirelessHART temperature transmitter, powered using energy harvesting based on what was then described as the Peltier effect, power generated by a temperature difference. Gareth Johnston, ABB marketing manager for such instrumentation in the UK, points out that this really uses the Seebeck principle, which is where temperature difference produces electric power, whereas the Peltier effect is normally used to describe the generation of heat at the junction between two different materials. Anyway, the temperature difference triggers a micro thermo-electric generator, or “MicroTEG”, and around 30°C difference between the process line and the environment is sufficient to drive the sensor: perfect for steam line monitoring.

On the pilot plant two of these transmitters are installed on the steam feedlines, and an ABB SM500 paperless recorder shows the measured temperature, and the measured environmental temperature, from the wireless transmitted data. This display also shows the current being drawn from the internal back-up battery, again via WirelessHART: this current is zero when the steam line is running, and the energy harvester is working.  ABB expects the back-up battery to last around 15-17 years, when typically it is not used except during plant shutdowns. I suggested a software mod to reduce the data rate when the battery was in operation, since this would typically be during shutdowns: eyebrows went up, and this seems to have been added to the list of possible future mods.

However Johnston reported a lot of interest in this sensor from a wide range of customers, wanting to conduct field testing in real applications, on steam lines but also even on refrigerated lines – operation below ambient temperatures can still produce the power. One of the energy harvesting steam temperature sensors at Imperial College was a strap-on unit, on the outside of the pipe under the insulation: one of the advantages of this test facility for ABB is that they can try their sensor developments out on an operating plant.

Choice of level products

It was noticeable that the liquid level switch systems on the columns and reservoirs on the pilot plant were the bright yellow of Vega conductivity sensors, and these level switches were not one of the areas where the sensor technologies were duplicated for the benefit of the students! Since acquiring K-Tek in the USA in early 2010 (INSIDER June 2010 page 5), within ABB there is a centre of expertise for such level switch and level measurement products, and this would have been a good spring-board to demonstrate this new capability. Unfortunately not even ABB can ignore the European CE regulations, and until K-Tek products have been designed and tested in versions that meet these requirements, they are not available for use in Europe. However, some ABB DP cells were being used for liquid level measurement duties in the columns.

[Editor’s note: The INSIDER, and any other Editor or marketing professional, by nature takes delight in finding such little chinks in the overall marketing presentation as that noted above! It is to ABB’s credit that they had decided not to try to disguise the level sensors by repainting the housings. But what was actually really impressive to a marketing person was the high quality 12 page leaflet from ABB describing the installation, the range of equipment supplied, and the objective of the different aspects of the plant. All the different equipment supplied is described, including some fairly new to me, like the CO2/N2 gas mix analyzer…and some ABB mechanical pressure gauges….]

International impact

ABB’s involvement in the project is aimed at raising the awareness among chemical engineering graduates of the benefits of a career in control and instrumentation engineering. “By investing in the pilot plant and the awards, we are effectively investing in our own future, by making sure that ABB will have ready access to a stream of bright young engineers,” says Grady.

With many international students also studying at the College, the facility will help to position the UK as the global centre of excellence and expertise for engineering education. Dr Daryl Williams, director of the pilot plant project at Imperial, added: “The pilot plant contributes to making Imperial the leading international centre for practical, hands-on chemical engineering education and training.” It is claimed that around 5000 students will be trained on this plant over the next 10 years or so, and the objective is that on starting work in a process plant, the control room, and ABB equipment, will already be a familiar environment to these engineers. From ABB’s viewpoint, training engineers on the System 800xA DCS will be useful, and they suggest that with a 25% market share according to ARC, with over 6000 systems installed around the world since 800xA sales started in 2004, the chances are that the engineers will benefit, because the plant where they finally work is likely to be using their systems anyway!

Imperial College is faced with future competition from the internet, with virtual learning web-based courses soon likely to offer remote instrumentation training and chemical engineering degrees: this pilot plant puts Imperial one or more steps ahead, being able to offer state of the art practical facilities in a hands-on environment. Plus, the UK Government believes that carbon capture technology will provide a GBP6Bn export industry in terms of expertise and technology from the UK, by the end of the decade.

This article was first published in the INSIDER newsletter for May 2012: for more info and subscription info please see http://www.iainsider.co.uk

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