Thursday, August 14, 2008

Gasification Heats Up: Syngas to the Rescue

Gasification of carbon sources--whether biomass, coal, shale oil, etc--creates synthesis gas, which can be catalysed to create diesel, gasoline, jet fuel, or if you must, ethanol. A large number of approaches to gasification have been devised. The key is the ability to scale up to industrial scale, economically. Eventually production of fuels will be possible at an oil-equivalent price of $40 to $50 a barrel.
Gasification is a process that turns carbon-based feedstocks under high temperature and pressure in an oxygen-controlled atmosphere into synthesis gas, or syngas. Syngas is made up primarily of carbon monoxide and hydrogen (more than 85 percent by volume) and smaller quantities of carbon dioxide and methane.

It’s basically the same technique that was used to extract the gas from coal that fueled gas light fixtures prior to the advent of the electric light bulb. The advantage of gasification compared to fermentation technologies is that it can be used in a variety of applications, including process heat, electric power generation, and synthesis of commodity chemicals and fuels. _Bioenergy
One interesting approach to gasification that promises a clean synthesis gas product, is molten metal gasification.
The HydroMax gasifier uses a patented molten-metals approach that can gasify a broad range of hydrocarbon inputs (biomass, municipal solid waste, petroleum coke, and coals with varying moisture, sulfur, and heating value content). The resulting syngas is relatively free of tars and oils and therefore requires less downstream clean-up equipment. _GCC
The syngas can then be converted to hydrocarbon fuels using various catalytic approaches, including the "Centia" process:
Centia is based on a three-step thermal, catalytic, and reforming process that has the potential to turn virtually any lipidic compound—e.g., vegetable oils, oils from animal fat and oils from algae—into 1-for-1 replacements for petroleum jet fuel, diesel, and gasoline. _GCC
Gasification is a process that should be compatible with emerging countries such as the Philippines.
Spectrum Blue Steel Corporation had launched this week the Blueprint for Zero Waste Philippines with the signing of a Memorandum of Agreement with Morong, Rizal Mayor Joseph Buenaventura for the establishment of a pilot Biosphere Gasification Power Plant....The Biosphere process is a gasification which was developed by Dr. Chris McCormack. The process begins with wastes delivered to the Biosphere Chamber being converted into clean combustible gas referred to as "syngas". The syngas is used to produce electricity in a combined cycle gas/steam turbine. The heat generated by the process can be used to produce electricity, superheat steam, heat boiler feed water and distil desalinate seawater. _MarketWatch
The Philippines project above illustrates another advantage of gasification--the versatility of syngas! The gas can be burned directly in a gas turbine generating plant, or a combined cycle plant with gas and steam turbines both generating power from the combustion heat. Or alternatively, the gas can be refined catalytically into methane, methanol, ethanol, jet fuel, gasoline, diesel, etc etc.

Eventually, bioreactors will probably become more efficient in the large scale creation of bioenergy--since in gasification some of the energy must be used to sustain the gasification process. But the sheer variety of approaches to gasification should keep chemical engineers busy devising industrial scale processes for biofuels from biomass for many years.

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