Project update: Promising results of pilot tests for Codexis’ enzyme-based carbon capture system | Global CCS Institute

On 9 July, Codexis announced promising results from a pilot-scale demonstration of its enzyme-based carbon capture process at the National Carbon Capture Center in Wilsonville, Alabama.

The test, performed on flue gas from a Southern Co. coal-fired power plant, is the largest-ever successful demonstration of enzyme-based carbon capture. The capture rate was the equivalent of “1,800 average sized trees per day,” according to Redwood City (Calif.)-based Codexis.

Though better known for its work developing enzymatic catalysts for the production of advanced (cellulosic) biofuels, Codexis is also tapping its deep know-how in enzyme science to develop a carbon capture technology.

I first caught up with this project on behalf of the Institute last year, when CO2  Solution, of Quebec City, Canada renewed a collaboration with Codexis on biology-based carbon capture technologies.

This project began to take shape back in May 2010, when Codexis received US$4.7 million from the US Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E) program to exploit an active enzyme called carbonic anhydrase, or CA, which catalyzes the transfer of CO2 in nature.

Working with enzymes under license from CO2 Solutions, Codexis undertook an effort to rapidly improve the enzyme’s performance. The results: the largest improvement in enzyme performance in Codexis’ history, amounting to a two-million-fold improvement in thermal stability at temperatures between 140oF and 180oF (60oC and 82oC).

The CA enzyme show promise to perform at lower operating temperatures, lower pressures, and lower pH levels than many current and pending processes. A lower operating temperature promises to substantially reduce parasitic energy loss compared to current state-of-the-art monoethanolamine (MEA) technology.

The process shows potential upfront savings for materials, as well. “The benefit of being able to use carbonate solutions is that they’re some of the cheapest, most environmentally benign, most commonly used chemicals,” Alex Zaks, chief technology officer and vice president for research at the St. Louis-based biotech company Akermin told Tamar Hallaman of GHG Monitor. She noted:

Although enzyme-induced capture is still seen by the Department of Energy as an experimental technology, researchers conducting R&D work with the natural catalyst argued that enzymes could be the breakthrough technology needed to help usher in a cheaper and more efficient second wave of carbon capture technologies. “I think this technology can be a game changer,” said Zaks.

According to highlights presented in Pittsburgh on 11 July at the 2012 NETL CO2 Capture Technology Meeting, by Luan Nguyen, a technical engineering manager at Codexis, the system shows the promise to outperform comparable MEA systems by these measures:

  • reduce capex by about 9 per cent compared with a reference model, post-combustion carbon capture plant;
  • decreased parasitic losses of energy for carbon capture by about 30 per cent; and
  • enable a novel biocatalytic process for carbon capture that increases the levelized cost of energy (LCOE) by about 41 per cent, less than half the increase predicted for the state-of-the-art MEA process.

As to future steps that could take this technology closer to application, Nguyen mapped out three goals:

  • first, to design and scale-up process and equipment for a larger, 0.1–0.5 MWe slip-stream demonstration, up from the current 10kWe test system. A second-generation system, could potentially reduce the systems’ impact on LCOE to less than 35 per cent, from 41 per cent;
  • second, Codexis hopes to continue to evolve enzyme via its proprietary CodeEvolver technology to further improve system performance and lower production cost; and
  • lastly, the company is looking to engage with strategic partners to pursue commercialization.

For John Nicols, President and CEO of Codexis, the unprecedented large and rapid performance gains the company achieved during these trials highlights the potential for very dramatic gains for enzyme performance in carbon capture, as well as other industrial applications. “Codexis has pushed enzyme-based carbon capture technology to a level that surpassed all expectations,” Nicols said in a statement, “We’ve succeeded in demonstrating that this could be a viable solution.”

The announcement comes on the heels of Nicols’ appointment as new CEO in June. Nicols joined Codexis from Albemarle, a specialty chemicals firm, where he served as Senior Vice President, Strategic Development and Catalysts.


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