Air Liquide to build an Australian CO2 production facility

Air Liquide and Gippsland Basin Joint Venture have signed a long-term CO2 supply agreement which will see a new CO2 purification and production facility being constructed. The Gippsland Basin Joint Venture consists of 50-50 BHP Petroleum (Bass Strait) Pty Ltd and Esso Australia Resource Pty Ltd. Read more

Why CO2 production is vital to food and beverage industry

Carbon Dioxide (CO2) gets a bad rap in the larger scheme of things. It is the bogeyman of the climate change world. Yet, without it, the way people consume food and beverages – even how food is packaged – would not be the same.

Air Liquide is an industrial gas-producing specialist, and one of the key ingredients it supplies to the food and beverage industry is carbon dioxide, in all its forms.

Frank De Pasquale is the business unit manager for CO2 and Hydrogen (H2) for the company in Australia. He has been with Air Liquide for 15 years and has been in charge of its CO2 production for the past 12 months and is well versed in its place within the sphere of the food and beverage landscape.

There is an increasing amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, but as of today this is generally not economic to recover, so industrial gas companies need to identify a suitable CO2 emission source and give it a second life by purifying it to food or industrial grade for commercial use.

“Unlike some of our competitors, we never produce additional CO2 from burning natural gas; we recycle and purify existing CO2 emissions from others. We are proud of this commitment which is part of our Corporate Climate Objectives.”

All CO2 emissions are a mixture of CO2 and various impurities, but it is what makes up those impurities that matter when it comes to commercialising the product.

“It could be 99.99 per cent CO2, but has 20 parts per billion of benzene in it, which at parts per billion level is not very much,” said De Pasquale. “However, such a little amount of this kind of impurity means that the CO2 is not suitable for the food industry.”

And how does Air Liquide source its CO2? There are several avenues it utilises. Currently it sources feedstock CO2 from seven different industrial processes, all of which emit CO2 as they make their products – three produce ammonia, one is a power station, one is a steam boiler (both are combustion flue gas sources), while there is one that produces ethylene oxide and another is from a natural gas producer. Each feedstock source has its own set of impurities that has to be dealt with, and then the gas has to be collected so it can be made commercially viable. Take ethylene oxide as example.

“We can get CO2 from a chemical process, such as ethylene oxide production,” said De Pasquale. “When ethylene is reacted with oxygen, it makes ethylene oxide and CO2. The process then requires CO2 to be removed, which we can capture, then purify for the food industry.

“However ammonia plants are definitely the best feedstock source; CO2 produced this way has the least amount of impurities in it.”

The reason for this, said De Pasquale, is that to make ammonia you need to have a reaction between hydrogen and nitrogen which results in a relatively clean stream of CO2 containing less impurities than other emission sources.

“As you go from ammonia to ethylene oxide to natural gas processing to flue gas – you get different levels of purity for CO2 and different impurities that you will need to deal with,” he said.

The cost of production varies greatly because it’s based on the processes used within the different disciplines to ensure food and beverage grade quality. In most processes, there are a few steps.

“Typically, there is some level of compression – there is also, as a general rule, a degree of filtration and drying, followed by liquefaction and distillation,  to purify the feedstock to the required quality,” said De Pasquale. “The process produces CO2 in liquid form, which is approximately -22˚C and 20 bar pressure. Not only does producing liquid aid in the purification process, it also allows us to transport it more economically than you would if it was in a gaseous form.”

Once it is trucked to a customer’s site it is loaded into a bulk tank, and the customer typically uses it in a gaseous form, which is made possible using a simple air-heat exchange system to vaporise the liquid CO2.

Dry ice is another specialty of Air Liquide’s, which is the solid form of CO2 that typically sits around -79˚C. One of the special properties of dry ice is that it sublimes from its solid form directly to its gaseous form. This is important in the food and beverage industry, when dry ice melts into a gas it does not leave a residual on the food.

“Airlines use dry ice to keep your drinks cool and to transport fresh produce from Australia to export markets. The Red Cross use it when they transport blood and other human specimens such as plasmas,” said De Pasquale. “We have a large number of meat and poultry processors that have bulk liquid storage vessels on site. The liquid CO2 is piped to their processing equipment where it converts to dry ice, which chills the meat to prevent biological or bacteriological development and facilitates product forming into beef patties or chicken nuggets.”

CO2 is a product with highly sought after properties. This explains why it is used in the food and beverage industries in its liquid, solid and gaseous forms across a range of applications.

Quality and the supply of a safe product to these industries is paramount, so how do they carry out quality control?

“We continually test the quality of our CO2 in real time,” said De Pasquale. “We have a detailed and audited food safety management system known as FSSC 22000, which is a systematic approach to controlling food safety hazards within our production and distribution activities. This ensures that we provide a safe product to the food and beverage industries. It covers everything from plant design right through to pest control and waste disposal.”

According to De Pasquale, from the process aspects, it covers everything from the feedstock CO2 stream and process conditions,  through to final product testing and distribution to the market. It is not just testing the final product, it’s about assessing, monitoring and controlling all risks, all of the time.

“We produce and test CO2 in batches; we test it online and send samples to external labs; and we also monitor process conditions,” he said. “We know if the process conditions vary, then something could be impacting on our product quality. These are real-time variables, and the last part of the system involves testing of the final product.

“If we don’t have these systems in place, by the time the final  product is made, it is typically too late. We test the final product to confirm that everything else in our system is working. It’s not a catch-all last measure – the important part is making sure the processes are in place from the beginning.”

Another major and ever-growing market for CO2 is water and waste water treatment where it is used for pH control and remineralisation. Every Australian capital city’s desalination plant uses CO2. The plant is a critical water supply source, especially as drought takes hold.

“CO2 is also one of the most humane way to process animals like chickens and pigs,” said De Pasquale. “It is used in MAP (modified atmosphere packaging) as a bacteriostatic agent, thus extending the shelf life of chilled and ambient products. Australian supermarket shelves are packed with trays or packs of MAP products ranging from meat and poultry to dairy products such as cheese and milk powder to pasta and bakery products. CO2 is used with all these products and is a key component of the system that extends shelf life.

“Another application that I should mention is glasshouse enrichment. You can grow crops in a field, but to increase the yield of your crop and also the growing season, you grow them in a glasshouse where you control the temperature and you can control the CO2. The glass house operates at a slightly elevated CO2 level, which improves crop production.”

De Pasquale is also keen to point out that he doesn’t see the production of CO2 – in the context as to why Air Liquide makes it – as an industrial process.

“The way that we run our CO2 production plants is driven by the requirements of FSSC 22000, which is strictly a food and beverage industry standard,” he said. “Our CO2 plants have this certification because the food and beverage industry is our major market and CO2 is used by this market as an ingredient or as a processing aid. So these production plants are not industrial production plants, they are food ingredient production plants.”

And when it comes to the general public, the bottom line as far as De Pasquale is concerned on the merits of CO2 in the food industry?

“Take soft drinks, sparkling water – everybody wants drinks with bubbles in it,” he said. “And what about beer and soft drinks on tap? Pubs and bars use CO2 to dispense these beverages. At the end of the day, no CO2, no beer, no soft drinks.”

Putting wine on ice – gas’s role in winemaking

The main hero and villain in the wine-making process is oxygen. Generally, the use of various gases in wine production is necessary to negate the destructive nature of oxygen. Gavin Hall, Air Liquide’s sales representative for food and wine in South Australia, said this is where his company’s expertise comes to the fore.

“The management of oxygen in all the wine making processes is paramount to the industry,” he said. “This is because oxygen is what defines the quality of the wine and its organoleptic properties.”

Throughout the production process, the wine itself is subject to various oxidation processes. A certain degree of oxidation is necessary, but direct contact with oxygen has a detrimental effect on the quality of the final product. It is possible to control how oxygen interacts with the wine by using a variety of different gases. All wineries have to use gases to control the intake of oxygen. These gases include nitrogen, carbon dioxide (CO2) argon and sulphur dioxide.

Hall said there are eight stages in which gases are involved in the processing of wine.

Stage 1
The first stage is during the harvesting and transport of grapes from the field to vineyard/winery. In this stage, the crushed grapes start getting in contact with oxygen in the air. It is important to negate that contact but it is difficult to achieve, which is why there is a need to lower the temperature in order to slow down the oxidation process, said Hall.
“As soon as the grape juice comes in contact with oxygen, the fermentation starts, as does the oxidation process. What you want to do is lower the temperature of the grapes,” said Hall. “Because the lower the temperature the slower the oxidation process.”

In this stage CO2 is mainly used in the form of dry ice. “In Australia, compared to Europe, most wineries don’t use this cooling process due to the initial phase, they usually try to process the grapes as soon as possible,” said Hall.

Stage 2
Once the grapes are crushed, the pressing process allows for the production of clarified juice, which is transferred to different tanks to ferment. Winemakers need to displace the air from empty vessels into empty pipes before transferring the wine to ensure there is no residual oxygen. This is called purging.

“When you need to purge the tank,” said Hall, “you utilise an inert gas to flush out the remaining liquid or air under a certain pressure.”

Nitrogen is mainly used in this stage. The process of purging is done by building slight overpressure with nitrogen in the tank, or in the pipeline. The wine maker is stopping the oxygen from coming in contact with the grape juice that has just been crushed out of the grapes.

“You are basically displacing the oxygen from the air that has already come in contact with the juice,” said Hall. “You’re using nitrogen under pressure to purge and transfer juice within the tanks.”

Stage 3
Then comes what is called tank inerting. This encompasses blanketing the surface of the wine tank after the juice has been collected.

“You are blanketing the surface with a protective layer of gas during the storage, or when you are emptying the tank,” said Hall. “By doing this to the tank, you prevent oxidation.”
The gas used can be nitrogen, CO2, or a mixture of the two. Vintners can also use argon, but that can be a little more expensive. In Australia, tank inerting is very important, and it is common to do it with dry ice.

“Using dry ice is preferred by winemakers because it’s practical, and they can actually see it and it’s a bit cheaper,” said Hall.

“You scoop it into the wine tank. Because CO2 is heavier than air, it creates a layer at the bottom of the tank blanketing the wine, thus preventing oxygen contact.”

Stage 4
Winemakers are constantly measuring the dissolved oxygen in the wine. Depending on the wine being made, some vintners do what is called deoxygenation which consists of stripping out the excess oxygen that is dissolved in the wine.
“For this process you would use nitrogen,” said Hall. “By injecting nitrogen in the form of tiny bubbles into the wine, you are forcing the dissolved oxygen into the gas phase, and then the gas is vented out of the tank.”

Depending on the type of wine that is made, vintners need a certain amount of dissolved oxygen. It is one of the key criteria to produce quality wine.

Step 5
The next step, also using nitrogen, consists of mixing or homogenising. Nitrogen is bubbled at the bottom of the tank. When the bubbles raise to the surface, they are mixing the various products together.

“That is why it is called mixing,” said Hall. “This comes into effect when wine makers need to homogenise the wine they are making. It avoids oxygen pick up.”

Bubbling nitrogen is also used during must lifting process but this time during the fermentation. This process brings up all the dense solids that have accumulated at the bottom of the tank.

The benefit of must lifting using gas is that it saves times.

Step 6
Bottle inerting is the next step. This means that when the wine is being bottled, gas is already being used. Like most of the other steps, it is all about minimising the amount of oxygen in the wine.

For this step, it is possible to use CO2 or nitrogen, or a mixture of both. Every bottling line in a winery has filling machines equipped with gas injection. The decision on what type of gas is to be used depends on the type of wine that is being made.

“Most winemakers use nitrogen to apply counter pressure in the bottles to purge the oxygen before filling them with wine,” said Hall. “The oxygen is eliminated inside the bottle, then you fill them with wine.”

The second step in the bottling line is the headspace of the bottle. After the bottle has been filled, there is a gas injection point, which is filling up the headspace of the bottle after the wine has been put into the bottle.

Step 7
Depending on the wine and oxygen level of the tank, some winemakers might use oxygen in the different steps of the winemaking process. This is called oxygen enrichment.
“The winemaker reintroduces oxygen to help maintain the yeast activity in the wine to minimise the risk of stuck fermentation and the production of undesirable sulphides,” said Hall. “Oxygen is not always bad in the winemaking process. This is a controlled situation. You’re not putting wine in contact with air, you’re injecting oxygen in micro doses. The yeast works on oxygen. The simple process of wine making is that you have the sugars in the grapes and then the sugars become alcohol, or ethanol in this case. This process is using oxygen to transform the sugars into ethanol. What you don’t want to do, is put in too much oxygen. Then the alcohol becomes oxidised. You need to control the amount of oxygen you put in the wine.”

Step 8
In the case of still wines, the CO2 level is usually adjusted before bottling, according to Hall. Winemakers can measure the level of CO2 that is dissolved in the wine and bubble nitrogen if it is too high or dissolve CO2 if it is too low. In the case of sparkling, this adjustment is brought about to carbonisation of the wine.

“Now you have the wine that is ready,” said Hall. “Oxygen is the one that creates the magic. It is the management of oxygen that is important and you need it to be controlled at all steps of the process. It is a critical thing for winemakers. An excess of oxygen is bad. You want to avoid direct contact with air.”

If winemakers are thinking of using the gas suite offered by Air Liquide, they come in three different modalities.

For small wineries they come in gas cylinders. For medium- to large-sized installations, the gases are supplied in bulk via big tanks. For big wineries, Air Liquide can install and operate a nitrogen generator onsite.

Monsanto to fight climate change with carbon neutral crops

As agriculture and farmers around the world work to mitigate and adapt to the complex challenges posed by climate change, Monsanto Company today announced plans to make its operations carbon neutral by 2021 through a unique program targeted across its seed and crop protection operations, as well as through collaboration with farmers.

“Climate change is one of the biggest issues we face in agriculture, as well as one of the most pressing challenges facing humanity,” said Hugh Grant, Monsanto chairman and chief executive officer. 

“That’s why we have pledged to do our part within our own business and to help support farmers and others. While progress has been made to reduce agriculture’s carbon footprint, we must work collectively to do even more if we are going to sustainably feed 9.6 billion people by 2050. Agriculture is uniquely positioned to deliver climate change solutions, and we hope that policy makers recognize the role agriculture, farmers and crops can play in mitigating carbon emissions.”

The company said its efforts focus on several key areas including:

Seed Production – Monsanto will drive carbon neutral crop production in its own seed production operations by leveraging diverse products and agronomic approaches, such as breeding, plant biotechnology, data science, conservation tillage and cover cropping systems, with the goal of eliminating that portion of its carbon footprint altogether. Working with outside experts in data science on extensive modeling, Monsanto has shown that utilising these practices and innovations can make an important difference, allowing corn and soybeans to be grown such that soil absorbs and holds greenhouse gases equal to or greater than the total amount emitted from growing those crops – reinforcing agriculture’s unique role in climate change mitigation. The company also will work with farmers to promote and drive the increased adoption of these carbon neutral crop production methods.

Crop Protection – The company also is targeting its crop protection business to be carbon neutral by 2021. Previously, Monsanto announced a goal to reduce the operational greenhouse gas emissions intensity in its crop protection operations and has continued to make steady progress against its commitment. To offset the remainder of its crop protection and other non-seed production operations, Monsanto is working to develop a program to provide incentives to farmer customers who adopt carbon neutral crop production methods – in exchange for part of their carbon reduction value. Monsanto will use those reductions as offsets to neutralise its remaining carbon footprint.
Sharing Data, Increasing Adoption of Best Practices – Monsanto has developed the carbon neutral crop models with the help of external experts and will share their data and modeling results with the broader agriculture, climate modeling and other communities to help drive the adoption of best practices and to reinforce the role crops can play in reducing carbon emissions. To date, these models are focused on the U.S. Corn Belt, where the most accurate data on crop yields, soil types, crop rotations and best management practices are publicly available. The models indicate that high yielding, carbon neutral corn and soybean production, in the United States alone, has the potential to reduce crop production emissions equivalent to 100 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, which is equal to reducing 233 million barrels of oil consumption per year.

At the center of achieving and verifying carbon neutral crop production is the advancement of data science in agriculture. Innovations from The Climate Corporation, a division of Monsanto, and other data scientists have allowed farmers to plant and harvest crops more precisely than ever. Examples include the use of satellite imagery to precisely target emerging pest problems or the development of sophisticated algorithms that model the exact fertilizer needs of each field. The continued integration of this data allows farmers to make more precise decisions, and when used in conjunction with agronomic best practices, can lead to carbon neutral crop production.

“This program is a critical step in agriculture’s overall effort to mitigate climate change,” said Dr. Chuck Rice, Distinguished Professor, Kansas State University and an author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. “The recent IPCC report indicated that agriculture is a significant pathway to mitigating greenhouse gases. Similar to other formalized carbon offset and renewable energy credit programs, organisations have started to invest in verified offsets originating from agricultural activities. Agriculture can be a positive force in the fight against climate change, and it’s important to see Monsanto stepping forward in this way.”

Farmers’ interest in adoption of these practices will require ongoing demonstration of the best practices and benefits related to carbon neutral cropping program, according to Monsanto.

Pick the low-hanging fruit to get tough on climate change

One might think – after years of focus on global warming – that all the easy measures for reducing greenhouse gas emissions had been taken. And yet, as governments prepare for their 21st annual conference on climate change (COP21), some surprisingly low-hanging fruit remains.

I don’t mean small fruit, either. I’m talking about big, high-yield fruit. Consider this: fitting energy efficient electric motors on all pumps and fans with devices to regulate their speed would save 3,338 TWh (3.3 million GWh)*, roughly equivalent to 14 times the amount of electrical energy consumed in Australia in 2012.

The opportunity is so huge because electric motors are among the biggest consumers of energy. They power all manner of equipment and account for about 28 per cent of all electricity consumed worldwide. 

In recent years Australia, along with several other countries, such as the United States, China and the European Union, has imposed new rules requiring older, energy-hungry motors to be phased out. These rules, known as Minimum Energy Performance Standards (MEPS), specify the minimum acceptable efficiency levels of a product, defining which products can be marketed and sold. Typically, these MEPS become more stringent over time. 

In Australia, rules requiring a higher efficiency class of motors came into effect in 2006, but have not been tightened since.

MEPS in Australia will ultimately lead to the upgrading of the installed base of electric motors. However, at the current pace of implementation, and taking account of loopholes and enforcement issues, they will likely fall short of the energy savings needed to achieve climate goals, especially given that global energy consumption is expected to increase by 30 per cent over the next 15 years.

One reason is that MEPS specify the efficiency of individual products, in this case electric motors, rather than the efficiency of motor systems. No matter how efficient a motor is, if it cannot regulate its speed according to load, it will always be operating at full throttle. Legislation is gradually changing to take account of this – for instance, EU rules that came into force in January 2015 specify that certain (less-efficient) motors must be able to adjust their speed. But only around 10 per cent of motors in service worldwide are currently equipped with (variable speed) drives that allow them to do this, even though the energy savings can be substantial – up to 50 per cent in some cases.

Another challenge is to establish common MEPS globally. Again, progress is being made in this area, with more and more countries moving towards harmonized standards, but much remains to be done. A recent study commissioned by the European Commission** concluded that, if the most stringent current MEPS for product energy efficiency were harmonized today, global final energy consumption would be 9 per cent lower, and energy consumption due specifically to products would be 21 per cent lower. This would save 8,950 TWh of electricity, equivalent to closing 165 coal-fired power plants, or taking 132 million cars off the road.

The clock is ticking on climate change. The weight of scientific opinion is that we don’t have much more time to turn the tide on emissions, otherwise it will not be possible to limit global warming to two degrees above pre-industrial levels, which is considered the maximum temperature rise we can sustain without triggering potentially catastrophic climate events.

Of all the actions that can and are being taken to limit carbon emissions and mitigate the effects of climate change, none holds out more promise than improving energy efficiency. There are numerous measures that can be undertaken immediately, without fear of harming economic growth; indeed, since most investments in energy efficient technology are paid back within a year or two through lower energy costs, they can significantly boost competitiveness and through the replacement of old equipment generate additional economic activity. Fruit doesn’t hang much lower than this.

* Calculation is based on ABB’s installed base of variable speed drives, which covers around 20 per cent of the global market and is estimated to be saving some 445 TWh of electricity annually.

** “Savings and benefits of global regulations for energy efficient products”, European Union, September 2015

Dr Ulrich Spiesshofer is President and Chief Executive Officer of ABB Ltd., a $US40 billion company specializing in power and automation technologies that enable utility and industry customers to improve performance while lowering environmental impact. The ABB Group of companies operates in around 100 countries and employs about 140,000 people.