Friday, August 29, 2008

Gasifying the World to Save It

Gasification involves the flash heating of substances to above 1000 degrees Fahrenheit, in limited amounts of oxygen. Most of the yield is a combination of H2 and CO, referred to as syngas or sometimes "coal gas". Any hydrocarbon can be gasified in that manner, including garbage, biomass, coal, shale oil, heavy oils, etc. Nexterra Energy of Canada has developed a process whereby syngas can be conveyed from where it is produced to another location for burning or use in synthesis of fuels. Nexterra has recently obtained new financing to allow it to scale up its process to service Canadian industries, including lime kilns.
Nexterra’s technology uses wood chips or other solid fuels to create relatively clean syngas, which can then be burned in a traditional gas power generation system. The feedstock is put through a tightly controlled series of steps including drying, pyrolysis, gasification and reduction, and in the end, the incombustible and dirty ash is removed and the hydrocarbon-rich syngas is piped away. The company is targeting plant-scale operations in the forest products, institutional, power generation and pulp and paper manufacturing sectors. _Source
Other companies are working on gasification of garbage and biomass, and others are using coal , oil shale, and heavy oils as feedstock.

The US Air Force recently performed an in flight test of synthetic fuel using natural gas as the starting point, but syngas could also serve as feedstock for synthesis of liquid fuels including jet fuel, diesel, gasoline, etc. Chemists are busy at work developing more economical catalysts and synthesis processes for conversion of syngas to both simple hydrocarbons and alcohols, and more complex hydrocarbons -- even plastics.

The opportunities for investors and entrepreneurs will be significant. Some small biomass or gasification companies in your area may come up with the winning formula. Always remember that biomass has very low energy density, so that local and regional processing and pre-processing plants will be needed for some time. These local processors will accept bundled biomass and chip it, cube it, sometimes torrefy it, pelletize it, or will increasingly gasify it either for on site generation of power, or for shipment to another facility for use or processing.



Blogger Snake Oil Baron said...

When they say the "dirty ash" is removed at the end of the process, how dirty is it? If the original source is biomass like wood chips and the process involves "burning" in the absence of oxygen, wouldn't the result be (possibly a low grade version of) biochar?

4:18 PM  
Blogger al fin said...

It's a bit more elemental than biochar, but it may have some economic uses. These days, almost everything is acquiring an economic use.

8:15 AM  

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