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Students take Control of Carbon Capture Pilot Plant in the Heart of London

Published: Thursday, April 19, 2012
Last Updated: Thursday, April 19, 2012
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Provides hands-on education experience in a controlled and safe environment for the College's undergraduate engineers.

Students are taking control of a £2 million carbon capture pilot plant in the heart of London, which officially opens at Imperial College London.

Imperial's carbon capture pilot plant, the most sophisticated of its kind in an academic institution in the world, will provide a unique hands-on education experience in a controlled and safe environment for the College's undergraduate engineers.

The plant demonstrates how CO₂ emissions can be captured by a power plant. Through this, students will learn the principles that can be applied in a range of industrial settings including petrochemical plants.

The plant is controlled by the latest communication, computing and sensing technology and Imperial academics expect to train more than 8,000 undergraduates during the plant’s predicted 25 year lifespan.

The Plant will also perform several other important roles: a summer school for engineering students from around the world; a laboratory for Imperial academics who are improving technology to capture CO₂ emissions; and a location for the energy and chemical engineering sector to train staff in the capital.

Dr Daryl Williams, Director of the Pilot Plant Project at Imperial College London, says: "This plant gives Imperial students the opportunity to run one the most sophisticated carbon capture pilot plants in the world - quite a contrast from spending time in seminars and lectures. We can create a range of scenarios for students, so that they can experience and help to solve the problems that engineers in the real world face every day. By providing this intense training before they begin their careers, we aim to provide our graduates with the best possible start and to provide industry with the type of high calibre, well trained employees that they are crying out for all over the world."

The plant separates 1.2 tonnes of CO2 from other harmless emissions in a continuous process that sees the gases remixed and separated again and again to demonstrate how industry in the future could capture CO2 emissions.

The technology behind Imperial’s plant works by capturing the CO₂ in an "absorber column", where a solution called monoethanolamine (MEA) captures the CO₂ in droplets and transports it to a "stripper column" that heats the MEA and strips out the CO₂ so that it can be stored.

Each day, the process separates 1.2 tonnes of CO2, which is stored and then recycled for use again the next day in the demonstration.

Some of the world’s most advanced equipment for monitoring and controlling chemical plants is being trialled in Imperial's facility to enable students to learn about some of the devices that they may be using in industry in a few years’ time.

The plant includes 250 sensors that monitor a range of things including temperature and pressure, some of which are wireless or powered by excess energy harvested from the plant, and four surveillance cameras, enabling students to zoom in and monitor any aspect of the facility in real-time.

Students will also be able to dial in to the Plant using their iPads to carry out mock repairs to the facility.

The idea behind this technology is that undergraduates will learn how engineers in the future will be able to be offsite and still communicate with staff, monitor situations and get remote access to the systems to solve problems.

The control room, the nerve centre of the plant - controlling the entire facility - is one of the most sophisticated of its kind, costing approximately £1 million and sponsored by the power and automation company ABB.

The room has been ergonomically designed to minimize fatigue, reduce stress on the body, eliminate eye strain and optimize efficiency in students while training.

During training exercises, students can take part in a range of scenarios including an emergency situation, where the room morphs: desks rise and screens move forward, so that students can practise their emergency response in line with industry recommendations for a crisis, which includes working from a standing position in a calm environment.

Professor Andrew Livingston, Head of the Department of Chemical Engineering, adds: "By working closely with out partners in industry we have been able to develop a facility that not only enables students to understand how plants currently operate, but also provides insights into how plants in the not-so-distant future will run. With hundreds of sensors, remote control surveillance devices, the very latest in ergonomically designed control room technology, and remote access via handheld devices such as iPads, students will be involved in truly innovative training programmes that will help them grow and evolve into the types of engineers that the UK really needs."

The Plant is supported by ABB International, JMS UK, TPI Italy and Charter-tech UK.

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