Selective Removal of Nitrosamines from a Model Amine Carbon-Capture Waterwash Using Low-Cost Activated-Carbon Sorbents

Nitrosamines generated in the amine solvent loop of postcombustion carbon capture systems are potent carcinogens, and their emission could pose a serious threat to the environment or human health. Nitrosamine emission control strategies are critical for the success of amine-based carbon capture as the technology approaches industrial-scale deployment. Waterwash systems have been used to control volatile and aerosol emissions, including nitrosamines, from carbon-capture plants, but it is still necessary to remove or destroy nitrosamines in the circulating waterwash to prevent their subsequent emission into the environment. In this study, a cost-effective method for selectively removing nitrosamines from the absorber waterwash effluent with activated-carbon sorbents was developed to reduce the environmental impact associated with amine-based carbon capture. The results show that the commercial activated-carbon sorbents tested have a high capacity and selectivity for nitrosamines over the parent solvent amines, with capacities up to 190 mg/g carbon, under simulated amine waterwash conditions. To further reduce costs, an aerobic thermal sorbent regeneration step was also examined due to the low thermal stability of nitrosamines. To model the effect of oxidation on the sorbent performance, thermal- and acid-oxidized sorbents were also prepared from the commercial sorbents and analyzed. The chemical and physical properties of nitrosamines, the parent amine, and the influence of the physical properties of the carbon sorbents on nitrosamine adsorption was examined. Key sorbent properties included the sorbent hydrophilicity and hydrophobicity, surface pKa of the sorbent, and chemical structure of the parent amine and nitrosamine.