Friday, February 17, 2012

Fischer Tropsch Syngas to Hydrocarbons: New Innovations

Dutch scientists have breathed new life into a century old chemical synthesis: Fischer Tropsch. By the clever use of nano-scale catalysts, the Utrecht University and Dow Chemical researchers have significantly expanded the list of important industrial products that can be created from syngas. Syngas can be derived from biomass, natural gas, coal, kerogens, bitumen, and any carbonaceous material.
Dutch scientists have found a way of turning plant matter into the building blocks of common plastics using a nanotechnology process that offers an alternative to oil-based production.

The team from Utrecht University and Dow Chemical Co produced ethylene and propylene - precursors of materials found in everything from CDs to carrier bags and carpets - after developing a new kind of iron catalyst made of nanoparticles. _SciAm
More from Green Car Congress:
Lower olefins are key building blocks for plastics, cosmetics, and drugs. Conventionally, light olefins are produced by steam cracking of crude oil–derived naphtha, but, as the authors note in their paper, there is a pressing need for alternative feedstocks and processes in view of supply limitations and of environmental issues.

Although Fischer-Tropsch (F-T) synthesis can convert coal-, biomass-, and natural gas-derived synthesis gas into hydrocarbon derivatives, selectivity toward lower olefins tends to be low. As a result, non-petroleum production routes for olefins usually involve at least two conversion steps, involving either cracking of FT-derived hydrocarbons or the methanol to olefins (MTO) process. _GCC
By destroying one of the key arguments behind peak oil doom -- the former need for crude oil to create a broad range of chemicals and polymers -- this new use of Fischer Tropsch has earned our appreciation.

In other F-T news, Oxford Catalysts claims to have sold five of its microchannel F-T units for converting syngas to high quality liquid fuels. The company says that its microchannel units can convert gas, coal, or biomass to hydrocarbon fuels, via syngas.

Here is a summary of the F-T based GTL process used by Shell in its $6 billion a year in profits Pearl plant in Qatar:
The GTL plant turns clean natural gas (methane) into five useful oil products through complex chemical transformation processes.

Methane is converted into these useful liquid products over three stages. First, the methane is reacted with oxygen to create a synthesis gas in reactors operating at up to 1,300ºC. The synthesis gas is then converted into liquid waxy hydrocarbons through the Fischer-Tropsch process.

Finally, the liquid waxy hydrocarbons are ‘cracked’, or broken down, into the five useful products using specially developed technology involving novel cobalt catalysts.

Gas oil is one of those useful GTL products being used to make a new cleaner car fuel. Colin Abraham, Shell’s vice-president for lubricants and commercial fuels marketing, said there are four main benefits to the new GTL fuel: reduced emissions; reduced noise emissions; ease of integration into existing fuel systems; and lack of investment needed into new infrastructures.

Abraham said Shell would not be introducing the fuel to petrol stations. ‘We will target airports and customers who have the ability to store the fuel themselves,’ he said. ‘The plan is not to make GTL fuel available widely across the network as this would put a strain on infrastructure.’

Base oil, another useful product of GTL, is being used to improve Shell’s existing premium engine lubricants to make engines more efficient by reducing friction.

Selda Gunsel, Shell’s vice-president for global commercial technology, said: ‘We plan to use our GTL base oils in developing high-performance engine oils that help conserve energy, improve engine durability and help reduce emissions.’

Recent tests of the GTL engine oils on a fleet of Volvo trucks saw a three per cent fuel economy benefit over conventional oils. _TheEngineer
The Fischer Tropsch process is far from dead. In fact, with the arrival of well designed nanotech catalysts plus the assistance of high quality process heat from gas-cooled nuclear reactors, F-T synthesis is just getting started.
The IEA chart above shows roughly 8 trillion barrels of oil equivalent remaining, by using F-T or similar methods.   The addition of gas hydrates to the mix roughly doubles the remaining hydrocarbon reserve.  Any delusions you may have had about running out of hydrocarbon fuels should probably be in the recycle bin by now.

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