Why Mechanical Seals are Critical to Accelerating Carbon Capture, Utilization and Storage (CCUS) Progress

February 29, 2024

8 Minute Read

As the world accelerates its decarbonization efforts, carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) has emerged as a key lever of progress. Carbon capture has the potential to decarbonize existing operations quickly using known technology, with the added benefit of providing captured CO2. for applications such as food and beverage.

Beyond being an effective strategy for curbing emissions across hard-to-abate sectors, CCUS can also enable low-carbon hydrogen production and remove existing CO2 from the air — all critical elements of the energy transition.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that carbon capture solutions will contribute approximately 9% of the world’s total CO2 reduction under its Sustainable Development Scenario. To meet this goal, progress must accelerate at a much more rapid pace than seen currently. However, scaling up the CCUS value chain is a complex undertaking that requires operators to not only safely and reliably handle supercritical fluids, but capture carbon — including fugitive emissions — while maintaining peak operational efficiency and ensuring the longevity of their infrastructure. Mechanical seals can equip mission-critical operators to overcome each of these challenges as they accelerate their net zero progress and our industry’s sustainable next phase.

Charting the CCUS Landscape

After decades of slow progress, carbon capture has gained considerable momentum across the energy and process industries. Today, there are approximately 40 commercial CCUS facilities in operation globally, with a combined capture capacity of nearly 45 Mt of CO2 per year, and more than 500 undertakings in various stages of development across the CCUS value chain. Developers have pledged to launch more than 50 new CCUS initiatives by the decade’s end, which would capture a combined 125Mt of CO2 annually, according to IEA estimates. Yet less than half of these projects have reached a final investment decision. Even if they do all come to fruition, the IEA has estimated that our carbon capture progress will be just 30% of what is required to fulfill its Net Zero Emissions by 2050 Scenario.

To accelerate progress, numerous countries are making CCUS a policy focus. That includes the US, whose 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and 2022 Inflation Reduction Act provide funding and tax credits for carbon capture projects. The UK has likewise stepped up funding for CCUS initiatives, and the European Union’s Net Zero Industry Act streamlined carbon capture permitting procedures across the union. While these financial incentives are promising, the IEA outlines a need for more concerted efforts: for example, the creation of regional or national CCUS targets, the launch of carbon pricing systems and R&D funding to reduce carbon capture costs across more complex applications. This favorable policy environment must be paired with innovative technologies that ensure the CCUS value chain safely and reliably delivers net zero progress.

Latest Technological Innovations in CCUS

John Crane has been at the forefront of CCUS innovation since installing the first dry gas seal in a carbon capture facility in 1996. Although CCUS technology advanced steadily over the last three decades, the pace of innovation has accelerated as net zero deadlines draw closer. Recent and emerging carbon capture innovations include:

  • Modular Systems: These fit-for-purpose systems have the potential to accelerate CCUS progress and expand adoption.
  • Systems With High Capture Rates: As University of Delaware researchers have illustrated, novel technologies have the potential to deliver capture rates as high as 99% — a significant improvement over current solutions offering a maximum 90% capture rate.

While these advancements are critical to CCUS progress, the importance of reliable, safe transport and storage infrastructure cannot be understated. According to the IEA, an imbalance between storage demand and supply could become a “bottleneck” to CCUS deployment. The recent surge in initiatives focused squarely on transport and storage is a positive sign, yet more progress is needed.

John Crane is actively investing in new carbon dioxide sealing and filtration technologies — including next-generation sealing for supercritical CO2 and liquid removal from CO2 fluid streams — to support safe, reliable transportation and storage. As we pioneer the sealing solutions of the future, we are also delivering measurable progress today through mechanical sealing innovations that solve critical CCUS challenges.

How Mechanical Seals Solve Key CCUS Challenges

Mechanical seals serve as robust barriers between moving parts in machinery, ensuring a sealed environment that prevents leaks while enhancing reliability and safety. They have proven their effectiveness across numerous mission-critical sectors for which CCUS is a viable path to decarbonization, including:

  • Natural Gas Coupling:Facilitating natural gas's safe and efficient transport and coupling
  • Power Generation: Ensuring the smooth functioning of turbines and other machinery critical to energy production
  • Ammonia and Urea Production: Safeguarding the production process against leaks and ensuring product purity
  • Hydrogen Production and Distribution: Aiding in safe hydrogen transport, production and distribution of hydrogen
  • Power Generation: Enhancing the longevity of machinery and reducing maintenance downtime

John Crane has been at the forefront of CCUS innovation since obtaining the patent for dry gas seal spiral groove technology in 1968. Our robust portfolio of dry gas seals, high-performance couplings and gas systems plays a crucial role in advancing CO2 capture, transport and storage at an impressive scale. By addressing CCUS’ unique challenges, our technologies play a pivotal role in shaping a future in which CCUS initiatives unlock peak sustainability and reliability.

Challenge #1: Reliably Handle Supercritical Fluids at High Speeds and Volatile Temperatures

Supercritical CO2 represents one of the most critical challenges in scaling carbon capture deployment. Handling is particularly challenging due to its multi-phase operation, and even the slightest deviation can lead to operational setbacks. A seal failure in a CCUS process can halt an entire operation. Beyond the immediate impact of an operational disruption, a seal failure can also prevent operators from achieving critical greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction objectives — undermining key financial and environmental commitments.

John Crane’s Solution

Since our first CCUS application three decades ago, we’ve supplied more than 1,100 dry gas seals for CO2 related applications, including supercritical fluid conditions. Every day, our mechanical seal technologies are enabling numerous pioneering CCUS projects around the globe, including an initiative in Australia that captures more than 4Mt of CO2 annually, transports it and stores it 1.5 kilometers underground. Read more about our reliable sealing solution for this flagship initiative, which is enabling the operation to keep its 40% GHG emissions reduction commitment — despite the sealing challenges of handling supercritical fluids amid volatile temperatures and intense pressure conditions.

Challenge #2: Ensure Safe, Long-Lasting CCUS Infrastructure

The longevity and robustness of CCUS infrastructure directly influences not just emissions but overall operational reliability and safety. Over time, corrosive elements, abrasive particulates and the sheer wear and tear of handling aggressive media can degrade mission-critical carbon capture assets. Without proper safeguards, this can lead to equipment malfunctions, unplanned downtime and, most critically, safety incidents that endanger personnel and the environment.

John Crane’s Solution

Mechanical seals aren’t simply about preventing leaks. By enabling peak reliability, they are also instrumental to prolonging the lifespan of critical CCUS infrastructure. Providing a secure seal between stationary and rotating components prevents corrosive and abrasive elements from causing premature wear or damage. At the same time, our technology’s unmatched reliability is proven to extend the mean time between repair (MTBR), a key indicator of an asset’s condition and lifespan.

Our unmatched global service capabilities ensure the reliability not just of our technologies, but of a plant’s entire population of seals — ensuring critical equipment is operating at optimal points for enhanced safety, a prolonged lifespan and peak efficiency.

Challenge #3: Balance Operational Efficiency with Emissions Reduction

It can feel challenging to balance environmental and operational goals, especially for organizations in hard-to-abate sectors. It takes the right partner to identify CCUS solutions that enhance not only sustainability but also the efficiency of an operation as a whole. Complicating the equation is the cost associated with many complex or larger-scale carbon capture applications.

John Crane’s Solution

By enhancing reliability, mechanical seals equip mission-critical operators to maximize both their sustainability and operational efficiency. John Crane’s mechanical seal technologies prevent unwanted leaks, reducing energy-intensive downtime and unforeseen maintenance costs while ensuring that emissions are kept within permissible limits. This includes fugitive emissions, which account for as much as 5% of global GHG emissions and are especially common in CCUS operations.

The Value of a Trusted Partner for CCUS Mechanical Seals

In the rapidly-evolving CCUS landscape, choosing the right partner is paramount. With the largest global installed base of dry gas seals in CO2 sequestration and EOR, and CO2 pipeline pumping, John Crane is the clear market leader in CCUS sealing solutions. Our operating CCUS facilities represent about 50% of the world’s CCUS sites, including approximately 80% of global CCUS sites with CO2 injected underground. We pair our innovative solutions with unparalleled service that helps mission-critical operators achieve peak sustainability and reliability.

As the CCUS landscape continues to mature, these technologies will become increasingly complex — and increasingly critical to our industry’s future. John Crane is committed to pioneering progress through mechanical seal technologies that safely handle supercritical CO2, extend the lifespan of rotating equipment and unlock peak operational efficiency in even the most hard-to-abate sectors. Contact our experts today to explore how our CCUS innovations can help you achieve your sustainability goals.

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