Power plants could capture more carbon using AI 

Model based on real coal-fired power station could capture 16.7% more CO2 while using 36.3% less energy from National Grid. 

Energy generation is a key battleground in our efforts to tackle climate change. The burning of fuels in traditional power plants creates a lot of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2). But not all of this CO2 is released into the atmosphere. Some of it can be captured. 

photography of smoke coming out from tower during daytime

Photo by Ella Ivanescu

This carbon capture is done through ‘enhanced weathering’, which involves bubbling the flue gas through water containing quantities of limestone. The CO2 reacts with the calcium carbonate in the limestone and the result is harmless bicarbonate. However, energy is needed to pump the water in this process. The power station used in the new study is fitted with a wind turbine to power the water pump. But when there’s not enough wind power to supply the energy needed, the plant draws from the National Grid. 

A team at the University of Surrey looked at ways to improve the process, and have now published their findings in ‘Responsive CO2 capture: predictive multi-objective optimisation for managing intermittent flue gas and renewable energy supply’, published in the journal Reaction & Chemistry Engineering 

The model of the power station used AI to predict supply and demand, meaning the system would pump less water when there was less CO2 to capture or less renewable energy available. The results suggest significant efficiencies can be made: much more carbon captured for much less input. 

The hope is that such findings can be put to use throughout the industry, maximising carbon capture and so contributing towards UN Sustainability Goals 7, 9, 12 and 13.   

Professor Jin Xuan, Chair of Sustainable Processes at the University of Surrey’s School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, says: ‘Usually, carbon capture systems run constantly, at the same rate – regardless of the externally changing environment. But we showed that teaching the system to keep making small adaptations can produce big energy savings – and capture more carbon at the same time.’ 

Dr Lei Xing, Lecturer in Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at the University of Surrey, adds: ‘Although we tested our model on enhanced weathering, the principles apply more widely. Our model could help anybody trying to capture and store more CO2 with less energy – whatever the process they’re using.’ 

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