Conversion of CO2 into Fertiliser
CPPE Equipment for Conversion of Climate-Damaging Pollutants
Translated from German from the original article that appeared in: Tageblatt, Letzebürg by Christian Muller, June 2019
Pollution is not an indispensable necessity for prosperity. The required technology to convert global pollutants such as CO2 into other substances already exists. This was demonstrated during a visit to the Luxembourg company "Carbon Process & Plant Engineering" (CPPE). The company designs and sells turnkey emission abatement plants for the conversion of pollutants into sellable products. Zero percent emission of undesired local and global pollutants is already a possibility, says the company.
When looking at the CPPE emission abatement plant and equipment at the CPPE Rodange premises, it does not look like high-tech. The production hall resembles a tidy warehouse. However, in one corner a complex apparatus with two long columns made of glass is to be found. Two scientists are working with the equipment. The lady who holds a PhD is from Morocco and the engineer is from Mexico. They are part of the approximately 50 highly specialised engineers that the Luxembourg company CPPE employs. The company has a very unique business model. It earns its revenue from abating pollutants.
"Our technology can help to save us from global warming" explains Marc Schumacher unemotional but measured to the Tageblatt. He is the head of research and development at CPPE. The company has a number of patents and manufactures industrial scale abatement plants that completely abate and/or convert pollutants such as CO2 (the climate change driver), NOx (fine particulate matter), Hg (mercury), or SO2 (responsible for acid rain) from the exhaust gases of a factory.
CPPE is not a start-up company. CPPE, in its current form as a group, was founded in 2008 in Germany during a company takeover. The employees and patents of Donau Carbon GmbH & Co, in which Lurgi Aktivkohle GmbH merged, were acquired at that time. The history of Lurgi can be traced as far back as 1915. In 2008, CPPE relocated its head office to Luxembourg. The relocation of CPPE to Luxembourg was not only influenced by the general conditions in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg but also by the vision of the man at the forefront of entrepreneurship - the Luxembourg businessman and engineer Dr. Alain Strickroth.
After gaining experience both as an engineer and as a businessman, he set himself the goal of founding an innovative company in the field of environmental abatement in 2004. The first few years of CPPE’s existence comprised of intensive research and development as well as the establishment of industrial relationships. CPPE was also involved in the Luxembourg economic missions abroad. New processes for CO2 / SO2 and CO2 / NOx removal and conversion were developed and registered as patents.
CPPE is a specialized engineering company and technology provider of flue gas cleaning processes. It offers its industrial customers tailor-made, turnkey plants for the removal of sulphur oxides, nitrogen oxides or carbon dioxide from industrial flue gasses.
“Our clients inform us which emissions in their flue gasses they want to abate at what percentage” says the head of research and development of CPPE. After that starts the construction of the plant. The construction is done mostly at the client’s site with their local partner companies. There is not only a pilot plant at the CPPE premises in Rodange. Besides reactor parts and heavy equipment another plant is ready for commissioning just behind the building.
CPPE connects its installations to a large factory on industrial premises. The flue gas containing, for example, a CO2 stream is treated in a reactor filled with a layer of activated carbon. “Ten grams of activated carbon has the same surface area as many football fields” explains Schumacher. The CO2 (or SO2) comes into contact with the activated carbon. If you now add water and ammonia a conversion takes place that produces a nitrogen-based fertiliser (ammonium bicarbonate).
In the same way, CPPE produces sulphuric acid from SO2 (for example for batteries, medicine or fertilisers). Mercury can, after it has settled on the activated carbon, be recycled using a distillation process and NOx is converted to nitrogen (N2).
The Luxembourg company had a difficult start. Technologies and processes that worked in a laboratory environment did not always perform as well when employed in the real world. From 2011 to 2015, for example, CPPE tried to split CO2 using thermal energy into "C" and "O2". "That did not always work and the process was not transferable to an industrial environment" says CPPE. The technology using activated carbon to convert CO2 into fertiliser works perfectly, explains Schumacher.
All of this became financially significant: "In the beginning it was very difficult", according to the Luxemburger. However, in the last few years the company made a profit. The sales revenue is now in the double-digit million range.
It is possible to avoid up to 100% of the pollutants according to CPPE. "Our customers normally only ask for 90% to 95% abatement and conversion" said CPPE spokesperson. That is due to the different legal requirement limits. "The removal of pollutants costs money - it therefore depends on the specific legal abatement requirements".
For example, the fact that CPPE has now built a plant in Chile, stems from the fact that the legal compliance limits for the emissions were reduced last year, adds Bartosz Jalowiecki. The long-time Polish ambassador to Luxembourg has left the diplomatic service and is now working for the Luxembourg company. CPPE is a global company. The company has already built emission abatement plants for example in Morocco, the USA, Singapore and in Bulgaria.
During March 2019, CPPE commissioned two Sulfacid® plants for the world's largest underground copper mine, the Codelco Mine El Teniente in Chile. It is the largest desulphurisation installation ever built. "Thanks to our technology, the Codelco process plant now produces 44,000 tons less SO2 per year, and the population of Santiago can enjoy much cleaner air" wrote the company at that stage.
As a comparison, in 2016 the sulphur dioxide emissions in Germany, after having been reduced by 93.5% (compared with 1990 levels) amounted to 360 000 tonnes, as can be verified at the German Federal Environment Agency.
However, those who think that in the current climate change crises CO2 conversion technologies would sell like hotcakes, are wrong. The most frequent request from our customers are for SO2 emission abatement plants. Schumacher has a good explanation why not many companies are investing in avoiding CO2 emissions: "It all costs money while taxes are low and certificates too cheap.
"In politics and society there is no real will to lower CO2 emissions."
He then calculates: It costs more than 30 Euro to liquefy or convert a ton of CO2 for storage. A certificate, that gives the right to emit a ton of pollution, costs only about 25 Euros. Therefore, it is not commercially interesting for companies as Schumacher emphasizes.
In addition to the conversion of CO2 into fertiliser, CPPE also offers technologies for the liquification of CO2. "One needs everything", says the Luxembourg engineer. The demand for fertilisers is much more limited than the supply of CO2. "A portion of the CO2 has to be captured and stored".
If we want to meet the self-imposed goal of CO2 sequestration by 2035, then much stricter rules are required. That is the only right way. “People are generally unaware of the urgency of this matter and there is a lack of will", explain both company representatives Schumacher and Jalowiecki.
For private cars or even trucks, the technology of CPPE is not yet suitable. The equipment required for the conversion of pollutants is currently too big. Another market area, which the company has been investigating for a long time, is container ships, explains Bartosz Jalowiecki. In this sector there will be new environmental limits on SO2 emissions from 2020 onwards. "The container ships are simply
emitting too much SO2. We are convinced that our technology can help". In that regard CPPE has already engaged with the Luxembourg shipping companies from the maritime cluster.
CPPE wants to relocate to Rodange in the medium term. Currently, the company's activities are spread across two locations: The warehouse is located in Rodange and at another location in Dommeldingen. Most of the engineers are currently working here. Also, the departments of finance and administration
are still housed here.