Over the past year, Southern Research’s Energy & Environment division has partnered with the NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE to verify data submitted by competitors. The $20 million global competition is focused on finding new technologies that convert carbon dioxide emissions into useful products.
“XPRIZE is the global leader in designing and implementing innovative competition models to solve the world’s grand challenges,” said Marcius Extavour, Senior Director, Energy and Resources at the non-profit XPRIZE Foundation.
In order to drive and scale positive change, XPRIZE uses a unique combination of resources to inspire technology development that will have an exponential impact on today’s environmental, social, and technological issues.
The Carbon XPRIZE has attracted a large range of entries, as the competition’s ambitious focus is on transforming a significant greenhouse gas into innovative new products. It’s up to the Southern Research E&E Measurement & Verification team to make sure those technologies actually work like the developers claim, and beneficially re-use CO2.
“You’re looking at taking CO2, capturing it from flue gas from power generation at a coal-fired power plant or natural gas-fired power plant, and using that CO2 to make something useful, which could be a fuel, chemical, concrete product, algae, or cattle feed,” said Tim Hansen, P.E., Director of Energy & Environment and Measurement & Verification Lead for the project.
Around 20 teams remain in the competition, and are now entering a Round 2 evaluation program. The teams themselves will gather data on their systems, including their carbon conversion performance, land use, water use, and the net value of their products. The information will then be sent to Southern Research for verification. Southern Research verification engineers will perform on-site observations, evaluations, and audits of the team’s pilot scale systems to verify each team’s claims.
The partnership also plays to a long-standing strength at Southern Research. For more than two decades, the non-profit research organization’s scientists have developed protocols for testing new products to provide reliable, verifiable data about novel technologies.
“We’ve got a strong focus on evaluating innovative, clean technologies in a variety of forms,” Hansen said. “These can range from clean vehicles and fuel and clean electricity generation technology to clean, green, and sustainable chemical processes, and renewable energy.”
This range of capabilities is exactly what attracted the Carbon XPRIZE’s interest. XPRIZE first learned about Southern Research’s environmental technology verification services at an industry conference.
“Independent measurement and verification of team technology development is a vital part of the independent judging process,” Extavour said. “The Carbon XPRIZE was looking for a partner who was capable of working with a wide range of competitors, with varied and complex technologies.”
Over the years, the ETV capabilities of Southern Research’s E&E division have expanded to encompass all parts of the technology development process.
“We can test and evaluate while you’re still tinkering with the proof of concept on the laboratory scale all the way through commercial scale technology deployed in the field in a real working environment,” Hansen said. “We have scientists, engineers, facilities, and capabilities to address that whole range of energy and environmental technology development and testing programs.”
As a result of their prominence in the field, Hansen was invited to serve on an international panel to establish an international standard for evaluating and verifying environmental technologies. This work resulted in the development and issuance of ISO 14034: Environmental Technology Verification, a standard that was recently adopted by the American National Standards Institute.
In addition to technology verifications, Southern Research’s ETV work also includes managing demonstration and testing of these new technologies.
These demonstration and testing programs collect high-quality, dependable data about a product’s performance. Though the approach to both follows the same general format, with demonstration programs focused on testing a technology’s performance, while verifications focused on validating information, data, test methods, and results of tests performed by other labs.
Typically, the technology demonstration and testing programs have two stages: a controlled test within the lab, and an evaluation in a real-world operating environment.
“The controlled testing lets us run the tech through its paces and evaluate its performance over a wide range,” Hansen said. “We can see how it works under different conditions that we can control. Phase 2 is typically real-world operations for a month, six months, or a year. We deploy the technology, perform measurements, and monitor the performance during its normal daily operation, which can be significantly different than a controlled lab test.”
Extavour said the Southern Research E&E team is playing a critical role in the operations of the NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE.
“Southern Research’s breadth and depth of expertise gave us confidence in their ability to work closely with all semifinalist teams to showcase their innovative technologies and deliver high quality verification data,” he said.
Over the next two months, the Southern Research Carbon XPRIZE Measurement & Verification Team will be embarking on visits to more than 25 locations around the globe to verify each innovative CO2 capture and utilization technology. These verification reports will be provided to the Carbon XPRIZE judges, who will then decide which teams advance to the final round of the competition.