Building carbon capture technical capacity in Mexico

Over the past year, the Global CCS Institute has conducted a series of carbon capture and storage (CCS) workshops in Mexico that have drawn participants from academia, industry, and government institutions such as Secretaría de Energía (SENER), Comisión Federal de Electricidad (CFE), PEMEX, and SEMARNAT (Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources). In this Insight, Ron Munson, the Institute's Principal Manager for Carbon Capture, outlines how Mexico is working to build the technical capacity needed to demonstrate and deploy carbon capture and storage.

Zócalo, Mexico City. Image courtesy of Anthony Stanley via flickr CC-SA 

Building capacity for CCS in developing countries

One of the most important steps in building the capacity to implement CCS in developing countries is to get buy-in for CCS from national governments and industries. The Government of Mexico is clearly interested and engaged in promoting CCS, as illustrated by the 2007 adoption of a greenhouse gas (GHG) emission mitigation policy, supported by the National Climate Change Strategy and the 2012 General Law on Climate Change. Mexico has committed to a 20% reduction of GHG emissions below 2000 levels by 2020 and 50% by 2050.

Along with government engagement it is also important to have trained technical personnel in-country to design and implement CCS components and technologies. From a carbon capture perspective, technical capacity development is being fostered through work being conducted at the National Institute of Nuclear Research (ININ) in Ocoyoacac, State of Mexico. In conjunction with one of the recent workshops conducted by the Institute in Mexico, I was able to participate in a separate workshop at the ININ facilities with around 40 representatives from government, industry and academia. The workshop included presentations on CCS-related research being conducted at ININ, as well as the opportunity to visit the Triga Mark III Nuclear Reactor and the Tandetron Accelerator. One of the featured speakers at the workshop was Dr Rosa Hilda Chavez, a researcher in Environmental Studies who is conducting post-combustion capture research.

CCS research in Mexico

Active in carbon capture research and development for several years, Dr Chavez has published papers on thermodynamic analysis of removal of CO2 from gas streams, numerical simulation of post combustion CO2 capture processes, and a comparison of structured packings in a CO2 absorber.

Dr Chavez’s current work is focused on the design, construction and operation of a portable prototype post-combustion CO2 capture system. The purpose of the study is to install and test the prototype system and a pre-treatment mobile laboratory on fossil fuel-generated flue gas. The study will also assess the degradation and regeneration of solvents used in the absorption process. In addition to the research benefits associated with these efforts, the progression of her work can serve as a model for other technical capacity building initiatives.

Dr Chavez’s early publications focused on theoretical considerations associated with carbon capture. The thermodynamic analysis and numerical simulation efforts provided a solid fundamental understanding of the science and engineering aspects of carbon capture systems and processes. Moving into more experimental work (ie the evaluation of structured packings) shed light on some of the more practical aspects of carbon capture and non-ideal behavior that must be considered in the design and implementation of capture technologies. Development of the prototype system integrates multiple processes and systems allowing for testing of a more diverse set of components and approaches. Perhaps most significant in terms of technical capacity building is the experience provided to collaborators and students in moving the research forward. Students who have had the opportunity to work with Dr Chavez will now be prepared to contribute technical expertise to the design, construction, and implementation of pilot-scale carbon capture systems, and eventually to full-scale systems that can help Mexico achieve its greenhouse gas emission reduction goals.

Fossil fuel projections for developing countries

The vast majority of increased fossil fuel use over the next 30 to 40 years will occur in developing countries. The development of home-grown technical capabilities is a critical ingredient in the eventual implementation of CCS. The Institute is working to foster technical capacity building in developing countries committed to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction. Work being done in Mexico toward that end will help inform the process for similar activities in other countries.