Chemical looping combustion (CLC) is continuously gaining more importance among the carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies. It is an unmixed combustion process which takes place in two steps. An effective way to realize CLC is to use two interconnected fluidized beds and a metallic powder circulating among them, acting as oxygen carrier. The metallic powder oxidizes at high temperature in one of the two reactors, the air reactor (AR). It reacts in a highly exothermic reaction with the oxygen of the injected fluidizing air. Afterwards the particles are sent to the other reactor where the fuel is injected, the fuel reactor (FR). There, they transport heat and oxygen necessary for the reaction with the injected fuel to take place. At high temperatures, the particle’s oxygen reacts with the fuel producing CO2 and steam, and the particles are ready to start the loop again. The overall reaction, the sum of the enthalpy changes of the oxygen carrier oxidation and reduction reactions, is the same as for the conventional combustion.
Two are the key features, which make CLC promising both for costs and capture efficiency. First, the high inherent irreversibility of the conventional combustion is avoided because the energy is utilized stepwise. Second, the CO2 is intrinsically separated within the process; so there is in principle no need either of extra carbon capture devices or of expensive air separation units to produce oxygen for oxy-combustion.
A lot of effort is taking place worldwide on the development of new chemical looping oxygen carrier particles, reactor systems and processes. The current work is focused on the reactor system: a new design is presented, for the construction of an atmospheric 150kWth prototype working with gaseous fuel and possibly with inexpensive oxygen carriers derived from industrial by-products or natural minerals. It consists of two circulating fluidized beds capable to operate in fast fluidization regime; this will increase the particles concentration in the upper section of the reactors, thus the gas solids contact. They are interconnected by means of two pneumatically controlled divided loop-seals and a bottom extraction/lift. The system is designed to be as compact as possible, to help up-scaling and enclosure into a pressurized vessel, aiming pressurization in a second phase. In addition several industrial solutions have been utilized, from highly loaded cyclones to several levels of secondary air injections.
The divided loop-seals are capable to internally re-circulate part of the entrained solids, uncoupling the solids entrainment from the solids exchange. This will provide a better control on the process increasing its flexibility and helping to fulfil downstream requirements. No mechanical valves are utilized, but gas injections. The bottom extraction compensates the lower entrainment of the FR which has less fluidizing gas availability and smaller cross section than the AR. The lift allows adjusting the reactors bottom inventories, thus the pressures in the bottom sections of the reactors. In this way the divided loop-seals are not exposed to large pressure unbalances and the whole system is hydrodynamically more robust.
The proposed design was finally validated by means of a full scale cold flow model (CFM), without chemical reactions. A thorough evaluation of the scaling state-of-the-art in fluidization engineering has been done; two are the approaches. One consists of building a small scale model which resembles the hydrodynamics of the bigger hot setup, by keeping constant a set of dimensionless numbers. The other is based on the construction of a full scale model, being careful to be in the same fluidization regime and to utilize particles with the same fluidization properties as the hot setup. In this way the surface to volume ratio is kept the same as that one of the hot rig. The idea presented in this work combines those two strategies, building a full scale CFM. In this way, it can be used for the hot rig design debugging and it is at the same time the hydrodynamic small scale model of a ten times larger industrial application.
The adopted scaling strategy and design brought to the construction of one of the world biggest and more complex fluidized bed cold flow model reactor systems. The air and fuel reactor have a height of 5 m and a diameter of respectively 0.230 and 0.144 m. The selected particles are fine and heavy being classifiable as high density Geldart A; there is almost no published literature regarding those particles utilization in circulating fluidized beds.
Extensive test campaigns have been performed to hydrodynamically validate the proposed designs. It was possible to understand and evaluate the operational window, the sensitivity to the input parameters and the key design details performance. Control strategies were qualitatively developed. The presented double loop architecture design showed good stability and flexibility at the same time, so that can also suit the requirements of other chemical processes based on two complementary reactions taking place simultaneously and continuously.