ISTC-led team to design large-scale system for direct air capture and storage of carbon dioxide in the U.S.

Climeworks’ Orca plant, the world’s largest direct air capture and CO2 storage plant, in Hellisheiði, Iceland. ©Climeworks
Climeworks’ Orca plant, the world’s largest direct air capture and CO2 storage plant, in Hellisheiði, Iceland. ©Climeworks

Carbon emissions continue to rise, ratcheting up temperatures and driving increasingly extreme weather events worldwide. Therefore, carbon capture and management will be a crucial step in curbing climate change.

There are two main categories of carbon emissions: point-source and nonpoint-source. Point-source emissions come from a single source such as a power plant or a factory. Nonpoint-source emissions are harder to pinpoint and to address because they cover a widespread area and can come from a variety of sources like automobiles, airplanes, boats, and more.

“In order to offer a more robust solution to carbon management, you have to be able to address both point-source emissions and nonpoint-source emissions,” said Kevin OBrien, director of the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC).

The U.S. Department of Energy National Energy Technology Laboratory (DOE-NETL) has partnered with ISTC in a nearly $2.5 million project to develop preliminary designs and determine feasibility for the first commercial-scale direct air capture and storage system (DAC+S) for CO2 removal in the United States.

This 18-month project will explore the possibility of pulling 100,000 tonnes of CO2 from the air annually. Project principal investigator OBrien believes this amount will help offset steep upfront costs and make the service profitable, at least at a commercial scale.

“The potential impact this could have would be immense, because now you can address unavoidable nonpoint sources by pulling CO2 out of the air, hopefully in any type of climate anywhere around the world,” said OBrien.

The project will use DAC technology provided by the Swiss company Climeworks. Climeworks has built and operated several DAC plants in various climates across Europe, among them the world’s first industrial-scale DAC plant in Hinwil, Switzerland, and the world’s largest DAC+S plant, Orca, in Hellisheidi, Iceland.

Three different climates, different renewable energies, and different approaches to carbon storage

Widespread deployment of DAC systems in the U.S. must account for wide variations in regional climates. Temperature and relative humidity can impact the efficiency of CO2 removal technologies.

The ISTC-led team will address climate efficiency challenges by testing the large-scale DAC systems and storing the captured CO2 at three test sites across the U.S., examining the effects of different climate conditions on CO2 storage.

  • Hot and very dry climate – A test site in southern California near the Salton Sea will be powered by geothermal energy, with the captured CO2 stored in a saline aquifer.
  • Hot and humid climate – A test site in Louisiana will use solar energy to power the DAC system while storing the captured CO2 in a saline aquifer.
  • Midcontinental climate – A test site in Wyoming will operate using wind power and store the captured CO2 in a depleted natural gas reservoir.

In addition to Climeworks, major partners in the project consortium include Kiewit Power Engineers, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Gulf Coast Sequestration, North Shore Energy, Sunpower, Ormat, and Sentinel Peak.

For more information, read the entire DOE announcement.

Media contacts: Kevin OBrien,

Teamwork and expertise drive success with major decarbonization projects


From 2018 to 2020, ISTC submitted over 200 proposals for technology R&D projects, winning more than 60 percent of those projects and bringing in more than $84 million in external funding. Major partners include the U.S.  Department of Energy (DOE), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the state of Illinois.

“We have a very strong technical team with extensive industrial experience,” explained Kevin OBrien, director of ISTC and the Illinois State Water Survey (ISWS). “The key thing with experience is everyone is bringing their own knowledge and expertise to the table, whether it’s knowing permitting and regulatory procedures, understanding how to scale up and construct these large systems, or understanding techno-economics and lifecycle assessments.”

ISTC’s planning process is comprehensive and organized. The journey from lab to commercial scale involves a team of engineers, accountants, and project managers who focus on correctly handling every detail.

“We realized long ago that executing a successful interdisciplinary research endeavor at a commercial scale is a meticulous journey that requires significant experience, technical expertise, and trial and error,” OBrien said. “We’re unique in that we can check all of those boxes at a very high level and offer new technologies and opportunities to our partner host sites.”

One of those partners is City Water, Light, and Power (CWLP) in Springfield, Illinois. Over the past 15 years, CWLP has partnered with ISTC on several projects, including work on emissions, CO2, and wastewater. “We’ve really run the environmental gamut with ISTC,” said PJ Becker, environmental health and safety manager at CWLP. “ISTC has been a responsive and professional partner and we’ve been able to benefit immensely from the technology.”

ISTC environmental engineer Stephanie Brownstein is the lead for the large pilot test of the Linde-BASF carbon capture technology at CWLP. “We’re a diverse group with people on our team who are experienced with fieldwork and process work to be a liaison between partners,” she said. “Also, we don’t own the technology, which helps us work to be a broader advocate for everyone. We’re fighting for the success of the project as a whole, not just a single entity.”

Prairie State Generating Company (PSGC) in Marissa, Illinois, is another of ISTC’s project partners. ISTC, ISWS, the Illinois State Geological Survey (ISGS), and partners Kiewit Engineering Group, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries America, and Sargent & Lundy will design a system to capture more than 90 percent of carbon emissions at the facility and incorporate additional carbon offset strategies to achieve net-zero CO2 emissions.

The FEED study is made possible through a $15 million grant from the DOE Office of Fossil Energy, which is administered by the National Energy Technology Laboratory. PSGC contributed $3.75 million to the project.

“We envision ourselves at the forefront of the carbon capture industry and we’re currently working toward building the largest commercial carbon capture system in the world,” said Jason Dietsch, project manager for the front-end engineering design (feed) study at PSGC.”

“That vision is what pushes us to meet and exceed every milestone we set with DOE. We are part of a very broad team with very different backgrounds that complement each other, but I think what makes our team at ISTC uniquely successful is that we understand that we succeed as a team and we fail as a team,” Dietsch said.

With multiple major projects in progress or about to launch, OBrien
is optimistic about what lies ahead.

“For someone like me who started back in the lab, to see this come together is huge,” he said. “We aren’t just working at lab scale anymore, we are working at commercial scale, and it’s an exciting time to have this opportunity for ideas and concepts for carbon reduction that we have been working on for a long time to be deployed on a big stage.”

Springfield to become home of world’s largest carbon capture program

Read the full story from WICS.

Springfield is set to become the home of the world’s largest carbon capture research program.

The U.S. Department of Energy announced the construction phase of the $67 million research project at City Water, Light, & Power (CWLP) to study how to decrease carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

“You could really see a situation where people from across the globe are going to be coming to Springfield to see our progress with this particular project,” Kevin O’Brien said.

O’Brien is Director of the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

DOE awards $25 million to PRI for design of innovative power plant

A rendering of the hybrid gas turbine and coal boiler power plant.
A rendering of the hybrid gas turbine and coal boiler power plant.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has awarded $25 million to a three-year project led by the Prairie Research Institute that will design a next-generation power plant in Springfield, Illinois. The innovative plant design combines multiple techniques to both reduce emissions and capture and re-use carbon dioxide.

“With this project, we’re bringing together different pieces of the sustainable energy puzzle,” said Kevin OBrien, who is principal investigator of this project and leads the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) and Illinois State Water Survey (ISWS). “PRI’s scientists have been advancing emissions reduction, carbon capture, and carbon utilization, and this gives us an opportunity to combine all of our expertise and experience in these areas to deliver greater impact.”

The project (Front-End Engineering Design Study for Hybrid Gas Turbine and USC Coal Boiler (HGCC) Concept Plant with Post Combustion Carbon Capture and Energy Storage System at City, Water, Light and Power Plant) is part of DOE’s Coal FIRST (Flexible, Innovative, Resilient, Small, Transformative) initiative, which aims to spur innovation in coal-fired plants. While renewable energy sources, like solar and wind, account for an increasing proportion of U.S. electricity generation, these sources are variable; coal provides a stable source of power, ensuring that consumer demand can be met consistently.

Components of the design proposed by PRI scientists and their collaborators include:

  • A 270-megawatt ultra-supercritical coal boiler subsystem
  • An 87-megawatt natural gas combustion turbine generator subsystem
  • A 50-megawatt energy storage subsystem
  • post-combustion carbon dioxide (CO2) capture subsystem
  • An algae-basedCO2 utilization subsystem

“While these individual components have been used before, they’ve never been combined in this way,” OBrien said. “Part of our aim with this project is to standardize and modularize these components, so this design can be replicated and more easily maintained. We hope this could become the global standard for innovative, low-emission coal-fired power.”

An ultra-supercritical system operates at intense pressure, which means steam is more efficiently converted to the mechanical energy that drives the turbines to produce electricity. Increased efficiency means less coal is needed for each megawatt of power produced, reducing emissions.

Including both natural gas combustion and energy storage will provide greater flexibility and resiliency. Varying demand is tough on coal-fired boilers, because frequent shut-downs and start-ups cause huge swings in temperature and pressure that cause stress on their components. Natural gas systems don’t suffer the same stresses; they can ramp up quickly to meet surging demand and can be shut down when demand drops. Likewise, the energy storage subsystem will enable the plant to store energy to meet fluctuating consumer needs for power.

An additional benefit is that the exhaust from the natural gas system can be used to pre-heat the coal system, reducing how much coal needs to be used.

The proposed design also includes technology, developed by Linde PLC BASF, to capture carbon emissions before they reach the environment. ISTC is overseeing a large pilot test of the performance, safety, and environmental compliance of this technology at Springfield’s City Water, Light, and Power (CWLP) plant.

Finally, the captured CO2 will be used to help grow algae that can be converted into biofuel, animal feed, or biochar soil supplement.

Subawardees for the project include:

  • Doosan Heavy Industries, the developer of the HGCC technology and one of the world’s leading developers of boilers and turbines;
  • Kiewit, one of the leading engineering, procurement, and construction firms for power generation-related construction, and;
  • Global Algae Innovations, a company that specializes in the deployment of large-scale algae systems.

Other participants include Barr Engineering Co. (firing systems), Microbeam (fuel treatment), Envergex (control systems), and the University of North Dakota (additional coal sources).

This three-year front-end engineering design (FEED) study will provide DOE with a detailed understanding of the costs of scaling up this power plant design and could pave the way for the construction of this innovative plant in Springfield.

The City, Water, Light and Power plant in Springfield was chosen as the project site because it is already the test site for the carbon-capture system, its planned retirement of three older, less efficient boilers creates space for the hybrid coal-natural gas system, and a DOE CarbonSAFE project conducted by the Illinois State Geological Survey (ISGS) previously demonstrated that the region’s geology will support underground storage of CO2.

OBrien and co-principal investigator Mohamed Attalla, director of U of I Facilities & Services, and ISTC project manager Les Gioja lead the project, providing combined expertise in power generation technologies, clean-energy generation, and large-scale construction.

ISGS continues studying CO2 sequestration near Terre Haute, Indiana

ISGS is participating in a second DOE Coal FIRST project, which will study the potential redevelopment of the Wabash Valley Resources coal gasification site in West Terre Haute, Indiana. That team, led by Wabash Valley Resources, seeks to convert the existing plant so it can burn biomass as well as coal while producing hydrogen that can be used to generate electricity or sold as a product. This project will capture CO2 for storage in nearby deep saline reservoirs and aims to achieve net-negative carbon emissions by sequestering more carbon than it produces. This connects to an ongoing CarbonSAFE project that ISGS is carrying out at the Wabash Valley Resources site, studying the feasibility of developing commercial-scale CO2 storage at the location.

These projects are supported by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Fossil Energy, National Energy Technology Laboratory.

Related stories

This story originally appeared on the Prairie Research Institute Blog. Read the original article.

Carbon capture collaborations lead clean energy drive

ISTC and ISWS Director Kevin OBrien with University of Illinois System President Timothy Killeen at City, Water, Light, and Power in Springfield, Illinois.
ISTC and ISWS Director Kevin OBrien with University of Illinois System President Timothy Killeen at City, Water, Light, and Power in Springfield, Illinois.

By Tiffany Jolley

The Prairie Research Institute is leading a drive toward a clean-energy future. This is the first installment of our ongoing series surrounding PRI’s state-of-the-art clean energy research. Part one introduces projects happening across PRI that implement innovative CO2 reduction strategies, an essential step toward reducing carbon emissions and greenhouse gases at an industrial scale.

PRI is collaborating with three Illinois power plants (Prairie State Generating CompanyCity Water Light, and Power, and the University of Illinois’ Abbott Power Plant) to implement sophisticated technologies that remove carbon from air emissions (carbon capture).

Three PRI surveys, the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC), Illinois State Geological Survey (ISGS), and Illinois State Water Survey (ISWS), along with partners Kiewit Engineering GroupMitsubishi Heavy Industries America, and Sargent & Lundy, are working to complete a front-end engineering design (FEED) study for the retrofit of the Prairie State Generating Company in Marissa, Illinois.

The goal is to design a system to capture more than 90 percent of carbon emissions at the facility and incorporate additional carbon offset strategies to achieve net-zero CO2 emissions. The FEED study is made possible through a $15 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Fossil Energy that is administered by the National Energy Technology Laboratory and $3.75 million from Prairie State Generating Company.

ISTC also is overseeing a large pilot test of the performance, safety, and environmental compliance of a carbon capture technology developed by Linde Gas North America and BASF at City Water, Light, and Power in Springfield, Illinois.

The aim of this project is to design, construct, and operate a 10 megawatt (MWe) carbon capture system at one of CWLP’s coal-fired generators. The project team has successfully completed the planning and evaluation of this technology at the plant. The design phase that is now in progress will produce a shovel-ready plan for construction.

The effort has the potential to be the foundation for more easily accessible and attainable carbon capture systems at other facilities around the world, depending on the outcome of a $45 million DOE grant with a $20 million match from the state of Illinois. The DOE received nearly 30 proposals from power plants across the country for the grant, which is now narrowed down to five final candidates – CWLP being one.

If selected, ISTC would embark on the construction of a CO2 separation unit at CWLP’s 200 megawatt Dallman Unit 4 using state-of-the-art air emission control technology as early as May 2021.

Abbott Power Plant currently hosts two DOE-funded carbon-capture research projects. In the first, ISTC is working with Linde to test three technologies for reducing aerosol particle concentrations in flue gas. This work is intended to help make solvent-based carbon capture technology more economical at commercial scales.

The second project, led by ISGS in a joint effort with ISTC and Trimeric Corporation, is working to advance the early development of a CO2 absorption technology at 40 kilowatt (kWe) following successful proof-of-concept and lab-scale development research.

This technology uses a novel biphasic CO2 absorption process that involves applying a proprietary solvent developed by ISGS researchers for post-combustion CO2 capture, an approach that could dramatically improve energy efficiency, lower the equipment cost and footprint, and maintain operational simplicity.

This post originally appeared on the Prairie Research Institute blog.

CWLP could become world’s largest carbon capture research station

The Springfield Journal- Register recently ran a story about ISTC’s carbon capture project at City Water, Power, and Light’s Dallman unit 4.

The project was also highlighted by Public Power Magazine, a publication of the American Public Power Association.

The DOE-funded project is currently in the design phase. The phase three proposal, which will fund construction, is due in January. If DOE selects ISTC’s Phase Three proposal, construction would probably begin next May or June, kicking off the five-year project.

ISTC receives $2,998,040 grant from U.S. DOE for Phase II of Large Pilot Testing of Carbon Dioxide Capture Technology project

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recently announced funding for Phase II of ISTC’s project titled ”Large Pilot Testing of Linde/BASF Advanced Post-Combustion CO2 Capture Technology at Coal Fired Power Plant”. ISTC will receive $2,998,040 in funding from DOE for Phase II.

During Phase II, the project team will continue plans to design, construct, and operate an advanced amine-based post-combustion carbon dioxide (CO2) capture system at a coal-fired power plant using technology developed by Linde/BASF. City Water, Light, and Power’s Dallman Unit 4 generating station in Springfield, IL will serve as the host for Phase II. The project will allow for knowledge-sharing with coal-fired plant generators across the U.S. and beyond, leading to larger scale operations to reduce energy costs and limit emissions.

“This first-of-its-kind large scale demonstration is vital to the carbon capture knowledge base and experience and will serve as a reference for future commercial projects,” said Kevin C OBrien, ISTC’s director and the project lead. “Technology that helps keep energy costs low while limiting carbon emissions is of interest to communities in the region, our nation, and internationally. The successful completion of this phase and subsequent project phases will demonstrate the technical feasibility of the retrofit and provide a blueprint for power facilities globally. Installing capture facilities to coal-fired power plants also contributes to workforce and professional development opportunities, which are especially critical for economically depressed regions being hit hard due to the collapse of the coal industry and its related supply chain.”

City Water, Light, and Power (CWLP) is a municipally-owned utility that supplies electric and water services for residents and businesses of Springfield, IL. The Dallman 4 unit with an approximate nameplate generating capacity of over 200 MW, was commissioned in 2009, and is the largest and newest of CWLP’s four generating units.

Doug Brown, Chief Utility Engineer at CWLP said, “We are excited to be involved in a project that manages CO2 emissions. It fits well with our interest in supplying energy and water to Springfield in a highly sustainable fashion. We welcome the opportunity for CWLP to be one of the largest R&D capture pilots from a global perspective.”

Learn more about the project at

Researchers explore joint partnership to advance innovative carbon capture technology

ISTC researchers recently met with representatives of Enerfex and UBE to explore a joint partnership to develop Enerfex’s breakthrough carbon capture technology.

Pictured (left to right): Row 1: Kei Tsukahara (UBE America), Vinod Patel (ISTC), Kishore Rajagopalan (ISTC). Row 2: Yongqi Lu (ISGS), Nobuhiko Fukuda (UBE America), Richard Callahan (Enerfex, Inc.), Kevin C OBrien (ISTC).

Enerfex, a small U.S. company based in Vermont, has been engaged in the development of energy related technologies since 1991. Most recently, they have focused on technologies to manage carbon emissions from large point sources. The company has developed a new approach for capturing carbon from natural Gas (NG) Combined Cycle power plants (NGCCs).

UBE, a Japanese chemical company, that produces membranes, is being evaluated as a partner in the development and deployment of the Enerfex process.

Due to the the low price of NG in the US, NGCCs are becoming more prevalent generators of electricity in the United States.  NGCCs are also being used to back-up solar and wind farms by providing electricity when the sun does not shine and the wind does not blow. NGCCs are a critical piece of the transition to a grid that has high percentage of renewables. The carbon dioxide that is generated when natural gas burns is a valuable commodity if it can be captured and reused.


Meet Stephanie Brownstein

Stephanie Brownstein recently came to ISTC as a research engineer working on carbon capture and utilization projects. Prior to joining our staff, she worked as an environmental engineer in the food manufacturing industry.

What is your degree in and where did you graduate from?
B.S. Chemical Engineering – Cornell University, Ithaca, NY (2009)
M. Eng. Chemical Engineering – Cornell University, Ithaca, NY (2010)

How old were you when you first became interested in science? What sparked your interest?
I can’t call out a specific age, but as a little kid I always loved building with K’Nex and trying to understand how thing worked. I fondly remember making multiple trips to COSI science museum in Columbus, OH and the Museum of Science in Boston, MA.

Who or what drew you to your field of study?
My high school chemistry teacher Dr. Shaun Heale really pushed my interest in chemistry, and in college Professor Al Center was a wealth of knowledge about chemical engineering in industry. I had an internship in the oil drilling business and at that point made the decision I wanted to use my degree to improve the environment (sustainability, renewable energy, etc.) rather than perpetuate the energy status quo. Chemical engineering can apply to so many different industries, so it was a great springboard into environmental engineering.

What is your background before coming to work at ISTC?
I held multiple positions in the food manufacturing industry including Continuous Improvement Engineer, Environmental Engineer, and EH&S Manager.

What are you looking forward to the most in your new role at ISTC?
Working on projects that will support new technologies and policies to improve the environment, versus just enforcing existing regulations.

What are common misconceptions about your career?
That if you come from industry you don’t care about the environment, or that if you are a scientist you don’t care about business. It’s possible to have a balance.

What are some challenges you’ve faced in your career?
Being able to implement environmental sustainability projects in the face of low utility prices. Influencing people was also challenging in a different way – it’s never simple trying to get 900 people in a facility to care about waste reduction.

What do you wish more people understood about science or being a scientist?
Contrary to popular belief, science is sexy! (I really don’t have a good answer for this one)

What advice would you give to future scientists?
Get exposure to as many experiences and fields of study as you can. Sometimes figuring out what you don’t want to do can help drive you towards your passion.

Any random facts you could share with us?
I am a CrossFit coach and love spending time outdoors.

New publication: Advancing Pilot-Scale Integrated Systems for Algal Carbon Capture and Biofuel Production

In this research study, funded by ISTC’s Sponsored Research Program, Lance Schideman and his team partnered with Abbott Power Plant and the Urbana & Champaign Sanitary District to address critical challenges to practical demonstrations of biological CO2 capture systems and subsequent thermochemical conversion of biomass to biofuels.

The researchers developed the capability to harvest and store actual power plant flue gas samples in pressurized cylinders, then used these samples to study acclimation in algae cultivation systems dosed with flue gas. The project also demonstrated the use of anaerobic digestion to recover residual energy from the aqueous byproduct of hydrothermal liquefaction (HTLaq), which is generated during the conversion of algae or other organic feedstocks to biofuels.

This study showed that mixed culture algae are capable of using CO2 in flue gas, and the impact of the flue gas on algal growth rates was positive. Because higher flue gas injection rates resulted in higher productivity and lower CO2 removal efficiency, higher flue gas injection rates are preferable when the CO2 source is cheap and algae are considered the main product. Low flue gas injection rates would be preferable when the CO2 source is expensive or the CO2 removal efficiency is important. Heavy metal analysis showed that algal biomass will accumulate Zn, Pb, and Cu from flue gas, which can exceed certain animal feed regulatory limits.

This work also demonstrated that anaerobic treatment of HTLaq in combination with sewage sludge is feasible in both lab- and full-scale applications, which highlights the potential for enhancing energy recovery from sewage sludge through integration of hydrothermal liquefaction  (HTL) technology with municipal wastewater treatment. Overall, this study highlights that integrating HTL technology with existing municipal sludge anaerobic digesters could significantly improve the bioenergy production of municipal wastewater treatment systems by 50 to 70% at a cost that is favorable compared to other alternatives.

Download the full report at