Thursday, November 17, 2011

Wilderness Refineries to Produce Gasoline from Wood?

CORE BioFuel Inc. intends to turn millions of tons of forestry wood waste and bark beetle kill into gasoline.
Images via CORE BioFuel Inc

Under contract with CORE, RECAT Technologies Inc. successfully completed a set of test runs of the catalytic reaction producing gasoline from dimethyl ether (DME), the only to date non-commercialized step in CORE’s patent-pending MKS Gasoline Synthesis Process.

Our reaction performs even better than we expected, with excellent conversion of DME to gasoline. The catalyst for this reaction did not produce benzene—which the EPA has determined should not be present in gasoline unless lower than their current criteria levels. Removing benzene is difficult and expensive and our process does not incur this cost. Utilizing similar operating parameters, our reactor actually produces a gasoline superior to ExxonMobil’s well-known commercial MTG (Methanol-to-Gasoline) process. Our gasoline octane rating is 94, which means it can be blended successfully with lesser grade refinery gasoline to meet retail pump 92 octane requirements. Our testing also determined that operating costs will be lower because we have less volume to recycle than in an MTG process—we produce more of what we want and less of what we don’t want. Our catalyst also costs less, and is a robust catalyst, which can be re-used.

—Larry Melnichuk, Vice President of Process Design and Development
CORE says the MKS Th technology is industrially proven and the process is a scalable, efficient, cost effective approach to producing carbon neutral, benzene-free gasoline. _GCC

CORE’s patent-pending MKS (Melnichuk-Kelly-Stanko) Gasoline Synthesis Process is a thermochemical process combining gasification and catalysts to produce an essentially carbon-neutral 92 octane gasoline (Zero Fossil Input (ZFI) Gasoline), according to the company.

Incoming biomass is chipped and dried to the desired moisture content. The dried wood chips are fed into a gasifier where they are converted to a synthesis gas and inert ash. The synthesis gas is then processed through a series of catalytic steps, with the end products being gasoline and distilled water. Conventional heat exchangers and steam turbines are used throughout the plant to produce sufficient electricity to operate the facility.

The Houston, British Columbia demonstration plant will produce approximately 18 million gallons of gasoline, 6 million gallons of distilled water, and will generate its own electric power. _GCC
This approach is energy intensive, and suitable only where large quantities of biomass are availoable at low cost. Overall profitability will depend upon the ability of the operators to keep costs low, as well as ingenuity in marketing products and co-products.

The company claims that its process is profitable without government subsidies. But the company also seems to be angling for carbon credits of some type, and appears to be framing its process to fit into pre-existing government mandates.

Realistically, natural gas GTL processes should allow more profitable production of unconventional liquid fuels at today's low prices for gas, for most industrial regions.

The economics of biomass to fuels for remote areas and islands far off from mainland, may tip the balance toward the biomass approach in some cases, where biomass growth is prolific and fossil fuel access is exceptionally expensive.

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