Carbon capture: UK’s largest project will turn CO2 into baking soda

Tata Chemicals Europe’s plant in Northwich will eventually capture 40,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year for use in making baking soda.


June 24, 2022

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The Tata Chemicals Europe plant in Northwich, UK

The UK’s largest carbon capture project opens today, and the carbon dioxide is used to make sodium bicarbonate for dialysis machines, pharmaceutical tablets and sodium bicarbonate.

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is seen by UK climate change advisers as a “crucial” technology for reaching net-zero emissions, but it has had a checkered track record with several major projects being cancelled.

Tata Chemicals Europe’s (TCE) new plant in Northwich, North West England, is currently on track to capture some 36,000 tonnes of CO2 per year. Eventually, this will rise to 40,000 tons, about 11 percent of the facility’s emissions, and more than 100 times the amount captured in energy company Drax’s pilot plants.

TCE’s Martin Ashcroft says the £16.7m demonstration project, aided by a £4.2m government grant, shows that net zero does not mean outsourcing manufacturing overseas. “What we cannot have is an effective decarbonisation of the UK through deindustrialisation,” he says.

The CO2 is captured from a gas-fired power plant at the facility and is not stored, but rather purified and converted to liquefied CO2 to produce sodium bicarbonate. “Effectively, we are making our own raw material,” says Ashcroft. TCE previously bought most of its CO2 from two of the UK’s largest fertilizer plants, one of which is closing.

The company was concerned that the CO2 captured from the flue gas would not be high enough for the pharmaceutical industry, but sodium bicarbonate made from it has been shown to be good enough for use in hemodialysis for people with kidney disease , and as an ingredient to control pH in tablets. Part of the product, better known as sodium bicarbonate, is also sold to the food industry.

Stuart Haszeldine of the University of Edinburgh, UK, welcomes the project, which he says is similar to a coal plant in India that uses CO2 to produce baking soda. However, he says that because there is no permanent storage of CO2 at the Northwich site, it is eventually released into the atmosphere. “This is a reduction in emissions, not a permanent and long-lasting removal of the fossil carbon released by burning methane gas,” he says.

Ashcroft is considering a second carbon capture project, either at the facility or at a nearby salt plant, and says it’s vital the UK government puts money into two “clusters of CCS” it has backed for the North West. and the northeast of England. .

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