In February, Ingersoll Rand, a manufacturer of mission-critical equipment for industrial and process applications, announced a partnership with Aqualung, a provider of membrane technology, to design a modular, scalable, and instantly deployable carbon capture solution.
The Head of Agreement (HoA) contract brings together Ingersoll Rand’s blowers and vacuum pumps with Aqualung’s patented technology. Almost half of Aqualung’s carbon capture unit costs are attributed to machinery – hence the need for a supply chain partner.
The key element of the Ingersoll Rand and Aqualung partnership is a common goal to make carbon capture viable and available to medium- and smaller-scale operations, as well as creating a safe, absorbent-free, and highly compact carbon capture system for industrial gas and biogases. The first commercial unit is set to launch soon in Arkansas.
Sustainable Future News spoke with Kristof Suykerbuyk, Market Development Manager, Sustainable Energy Markets at Ingersoll Rand, on the details of the partnership, whether this type of agreement will be a long-term blueprint for the industry, and the current state of the carbon capture market.
What does your role entail, what is your day-to-day routine, and who are the stakeholders with whom you are engaging?
My role is in what we call the ‘life plus’ market development management. ‘Life plus’ is a principle, a concept that we have at Ingersoll Rand, and it’s part of our ‘making life better’ initiative. We’re looking at markets where we not only see above average growth, but also where we can have a positive impact on society, such as food and beverage, the energy and power generation, environment, or wastewater. Our strategy is to assess the most interesting markets, and then within those targeted markets, develop a strong value proposition which makes life better for our customers, but also in the long-term, for all society.
The energy market is in a large transformation cycle, moving away from fossil fuel to everything, renewable and cleaner technologies. It’s also in our company DNA to put energy efficiency and carbon dioxide reduction very high on our specification and the requirements list, whenever we enter investments.
Consider new portfolios of products; they always have, as a top requirement, to have a better energy efficiency level than their predecessors. So, it’s basically looking at a market, and why we want to grab a sizeable portion of it, and how we can contribute with a strong value proposition, which is typically driven around energy efficiency, and total cost of ownership improvements. I’m working on, green and blue hydrogen, and carbon capture goes hand in hand with the blue hydrogen market. We have biofuels, biomass, biogas via methane – that’s another strong element on which we are focusing. And we are also looking at the fuel cell industry and, last but not least, nuclear power.
Carbon capture is not only a market itself, but also a bolt-on solution in the hydrogen and biogas industries. For example, where you see typical biogas upgrading, the CO2 was previously a wasteful by-product, and now we see CO2 as a useful ingredient.
How does the company DNA correlate throughout the organisation? Is it related to KPIs and executive leadership, for instance?
There are two elements to it – first is our offerings and portfolios. When we have a portfolio and new product developments, the whole product development objective, as a key KPI, is to hit energy efficiency improvements. Every dollar we invest into new product development is invested into projects where energy efficiency will be improved from the previous generation. There’s no MRD (market requirements document) that doesn’t have energy efficiency improvement as a primary objective
On the other hand, we also practice what we preach. We have a sustainability and ESG organisation with our own VP of sustainability. This is an internal team looking at how we operate, and how we can reduce our ecological footprint from our operations. So, it’s thinking about our manufacturing sites and plants; they all have sustainability targets year-on-year. We are looking at investments, for example, in introducing fuel cells as a backup instead of diesel power generators; installing solar panels on the roof of our plants. Every plant manager gets submits objectives for the year, [a target] to make an impact for the better on their own ecological footprint.
Ingersoll Rand have partnered with Aqualung to design a ‘modular, scalable, and instantly deployable carbon capture solution.’ How did this agreement come about and how did the two companies realise they were a good fit together?
If you look at the market dynamics in sustainable energy and renewable energy, what you see happening in the market is no company is going after these large opportunities by themselves. You see a lot of M&A activity, partnerships, MOUs (memorandums of understanding), so companies are joining forces to go after what they see as a common goal. Ultimately, this is something that brought Aqualung and Ingersoll Rand together.
It started out as a more traditional conversation. A systems integrator who had a core competency on membrane separation technologies, would seek a business which could convey a gas from A to B, and install a certain vacuum level onto that gas. We’re an air and gas rotating equipment manufacturer, but looking at the portfolios, we’re now present across the board in all aspects of the process.
We have vacuum for everything below atmospheric and have higher pressure compression, once the gas is captured, so we came to the table indeed as a candidate vendor, and the initial question was to have a vacuum pump behind the membrane. But by asking more details about their process and being able to look inside their end-to-end process, we were able to connect a few more dots and deeper into the system. I was able to talk about the injection side of the gas into the system, and discuss what to do with the captured CO2 and how to bring it into a process where it can add value, we took a more holistic approach.
Aqualung is a system builder, using their core technology, they build a system around it and then sell it to an end user. When they approached us, they had one end user with a specific flow which I would call a smaller size installation. But they also had a customer on hand with a factor 50 times larger than that one. What we have done, is design a system solution that is scalable across the flow spectrum, with various technology building blocks. They can see from small to medium, large, extra-large, which Ingersoll Rand machine will be the perfect candidate to be designed.
This is how I position our company when speaking to any potential customer; we’re a one-stop shop. Whenever there is a gas that needs to be taken from point A to point B, and the pressure needs to be increased or reduced, or it needs to be compressed, we have a wide array of technologies for that. And depending on the exact operating point, we will be able to find the winning technology for the application.
Do you think HoA partnership models like the one between Ingersoll Rand and Aqualung are the way forward?
For us, looking at this way of collaborating, I would say it gives you a safe space to share your knowledge. An HoA is basically like an engagement ring – it’s not enforceable by law, but it obviously states very clear intentions, very pure intentions to go after something together. That’s what it is to me.
To go after this huge opportunity in the market, people are shaking hands and signing up for partnerships in this space, and we see it as no different. [Aqualung] are, I would say, a niche player with large potential, and we are a large multinational global company. So, we can help each other out because we have a service network; we can act like their agents,
It is also very well pre-defined. They know exactly what to expect from us. Everything technically and commercially is understood. So, it is going to spare them some time, because they want to spend time on going out to the market, not on selecting vendors every time; it’s making their operations, their supply chain, a lot easier.
This could be a winning model. For me, producing standardised solutions is of course very beneficial. Because I’m more than happy to spend some more time upfront [if it means] benefiting from something that’s predictable at the finish line.
In terms of the wider carbon capture market and where we are right now, what are the key advantages, opportunities, and challenges? What’s going to happen in the next 12–24 months?
I think it’s one of those markets that will probably be on the rise first – there’s been a lot of research in the past few decades that makes this one of the more mature technologies to be taken onto larger scale. If you’re looking at the end user markets, think about everything in power generation for example, where large flue gas streams are exhausted. Those applications will be very suitable for large scale carbon capture systems.
Traditional, large polluters will be forced to clean up their act, and carbon capture is what we call post-combustion. Looking at some of the hotspots in Europe, you will see the Nordics, the UK, and the Netherlands – those typical heavy polluters must get on board with this, so we are expecting to see a lot of traction in these markets.
Also, in the hydrogen market, hydrogen is typically produced by natural gas processing, methane reforming into hydrogen with a by-product of CO2. Now with CO2 being a valuable ingredient, capturing it, turning grey hydrogen into blue hydrogen, and making the CO2 reusable is something that organisations will jump on. Also, biogas upgrading – if you see raw biogas as methane and CO2 at 60/40, it used to be 40% waste with CO2. Now they can capture it and they can monetise it; it’s become a useful ingredient.
I think it’s very, very mature; enough to go large scale in the new future.
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