Capture and Release of CO2 in Monoethanolamine Aqueous Solutions: New Insights from First-Principles Reaction Dynamics
Aqueous,monoethanolamine (MEA) solution is commonly used for post-combustion carbon capture via chemical absorption. Extensive research has been carried out to characterize both uptake and release of carbon dioxide (CO2), with the aim of improving process performance. However, an intensive research is still needed on fundamental aspects of the key chemical reactions, to achieve a comprehensive understanding of the cyclic process at the microscopic level and a quantitative assessment. We present several ab initio simulations of MBA solutions at a concentration of 30 wt % the current standard in the industry and study the dynamics of key multistep chemical reactions, using the metadynamics technique. Pathways for the entire cycle are investigated and characterized in terms of related free-energy and enthalpy barriers, and of the accompanying variations in both structural and electronic properties. The results of this study lead us to propose, among competing processes, an unforeseen scenario in which the zwitterion acts as sn intermediate not only of CO2 uptake, in the form of carbamate, but also of its release. Rate-limiting steps are the formation of the zwitterion for the former and MEAH(+) deprotonation for the latter. Water is shown to play a multifaceted role, which is crucial in determining the development and the energetics of each step of the reactions. The level of comprehension here achieved for MBA should help defining a strategy for solvent optimization.