Control technology drives carbon capture plant

A new carbon capture pilot plant is using some of the most advanced and up-to-date control and instrumentation equipment thanks to co-operation between a leading manufacturer and academia.

ABB has invested close to £1 million and signed a 10-year agreement with Imperial College London to support its carbon capture pilot plant teaching facility located at the university's central London campus. Using a combination of ABB's instrumentation, drives, motors and process automation equipment, the control room provides students with hands-on experience of pilot-scale industrial plant operations and is the only facility of its kind in an academic institution in the world. The pilot plant will be used in undergraduate teaching with the aim of equipping students with the practical skills needed for a career in industry. The pilot scale carbon capture plant was commissioned in February 2012 and has a capacity for 50 kg/hour capture of carbon dioxide (CO2). The plant is part of the College's £8.9 million ChemEngSpace Project and will be used for undergraduate teaching, with over 300 Imperial College chemical engineering students having access to it each year. It will also be part of the Department's new international summer school for chemical engineering education. The agreement between ABB and Imperial gives the university access to the most advanced control and instrumentation technology available, as well as lifecycle services and support for the installation. In return, ABB has access to the carbon capture pilot plant for its own use and will use the facility for customer demonstrations and training, staff learning such as inter-divisional training, hands on experience for its apprentices and product testing and software evaluation. "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," says Martin Grady, General Manager, Oil, Gas and Petrochemical - UK, ABB Ltd. "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 used all the leading-edge technology that Imperial College is featuring within this pilot plant." Of course, the nature of the plant is that it has thrown up a number of challenges in terms of control and instrumentation. This has allowed ABB to deploy its equipment in innovative ways that allow the company to field test as much equipment as possible, while also giving the students as rounded an introduction to the technologies as possible. One of these has been the challenge of flowmeter selection, where engineers are faced with a wide choice of flow technologies, each offering distinct advantages and drawbacks. As every type of liquid or gas behaves differently as it flows through a pipeline, it is important to choose the flow technology that can guarantee the best accuracy. It is, of course, important to teach students the various flow technologies, so the solution arrived at by ABB was to use flowmeters in series. Imperial's pilot plant features three points where different flowmeters are installed in series. Steam flow to the pilot plant is measured by both anABB OriMaster M flowmeter and an ABB Swirl meter.The OriMaster M is a differential pressure flowmeter, which measures directly in mass or corrected volume units. It incorporates all of the major components needed for an orifice plate installation into a single assembly, significantly reducing installation costs. The Swirl meter measures the flow rate based on the frequency of pressure variations formed as steam, gas or fluids meet a fixed spiral obstruction inside the meter body. In comparison to the OriMaster, the Swirl meter requires little straight pipe upstream to get the best accuracy, making it ideal for compact installations. On the amine chemical feed line to the regenerator column, two ABB meters are used to compare electromagnetic flow measurement against the swirl measurement technique. On the nitrogen gas line the plant uses a Vortex flowmeter in series with a thermal mass flowmeter. Another example of two totally different technologies operating on the same process media. Another area in which ABB has been able to aid students' understanding of real-world technologies has been in the area of plant-wide communications. To enable the process to be managed from the control room, all equipment on the pilot plant is linked via various forms of communication to the System 800xA control system. The Imperial College installation features examples of all of the leading types of plant-wide communications technologies, enabling students to compare and evaluate each one in an actual operational setting. Disagreement over a common standard has meant there are many different fieldbus protocols for use in industrial applications. With each type of fieldbus offering its own merits, it is important to be able to understand what needs to be considered when making a choice and the factors that can affect operation. These factors can include data propagation time, suitability for use in hazardous areas, power requirements and ability to integrate with other systems. In contrast to real-life industrial sites, which are likely to standardise on just one protocol, the Imperial College pilot plant utilises a combination of Profibus PA, Profibus DP, Foundation Fieldbus (HSE and H1), HART, Ethernet and WirelessHART technologies. By teaching multiple protocols, it is hoped that students will emerge well-versed in as many protocols as possible. 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. The investment is seen as a shop window for presenting the opportunities available throughout the ABB organisation. "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. "One of our biggest problems is finding enough suitably qualified engineers to fill the ever growing range of opportunities we can offer. Obviously if engineering in the UK flourishes, then we flourish too. "The move by ABB is partly in response to government initiatives aimed at rebuilding the manufacturing base of the UK and re-establishing the important contribution that engineering makes to people's everyday lives. The UK needs to increase its base of skilled engineers if it is to grow its manufacturing sector towards its potential. We believe that the pilot plant will support education by giving tomorrow's engineers hands-on exposure to real-life technology. This pilot plant really brings the real world into the classroom for the first time."