From LanzaTech to Sierra Energy and the Latest Research, Syngas Is on Fire
by Helena Tavares Kennedy (Biofuels Digest) Syngas, or synthesis gas, is on fire lately, with new technologies making the most of waste products like CO2 or low-grade biomass and converting them into useful hot stuff like syngas that can then be turned into even better and hotter stuff like jet fuel, energy, and valuable chemicals.
The latest news in this area is from LanzaTech, Virgin Atlantic and partners who are one-step closer to building the world’s first large scale Alcohol to Jet (ATJ) facility producing commercial quantities of fuel in the UK. The commercial facility would convert low carbon ethanol produced from waste emissions, to jet fuel.
LanzaTech submitted a bid to the UK Department for Transport (DfT) Future Fuels for Flight and Freight Competition (F4C) for partial funding of this facility and has been selected for project development funding with a £410k grant from the UK government.
The project includes many impressive partners including, Aviation (including airline partner Virgin Atlantic, as well as Boeing, SkyNRG, Heathrow and Gatwick Airports), Steel Mill Ethanol Supply (ArcelorMittal), Technical (Air BP; World Fuel Services; Pacific Northwest national laboratory (PNNL), a US Department of Energy Laboratory), Sustainability (Ecofys, a Navigant Company; the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials and Cerulogy) and Site (Tata Steel UK and Greenergy).
LanzaTech is keeping busy in other ways as well. They are working on the development of a sustainable green chemistry platform for production of acetone and downstream drop-in fuel and commodity products directly from biomass syngas via a novel energy conserving route in engineered acetogenic bacteria. It’s a potentially history-making process being developed by LanzaTech and partners that the DOE is supporting.
But that’s not all….
LanzaTech isn’t the only one making strides with syngas. Sierra Energy has created what is billed as “the world’s most efficient gasifier,” FastOx, developed in conjunction with UC Davis, US Army and California Energy Commission, as reported in the Digest in April. Gasification is the missing link between complex feedstocks and a clean synthesis gas for use in a wide variety of biofuel applications. The medium BTU synthesis gas is 70% CO and 30% H2. Check out Sierra Energy’s CEO Mike Hart’s overview of the technology’s promise and progress at ABLC 2018 in Washington DC here.
In the research arena, a chemist in the School of Molecular Sciences, Ellen Stechel is also deputy director of LightWorks and is using CO2 to make products by chemical means (not biology or photosynthesis).
“Once we split CO2 or split water — or both of them — then we have a combination of hydrogen and carbon monoxide, which is called syngas,” Stechel said. “We can use that as our building blocks for making pretty much any kind of petroleum alternative you would like. We’re focused on diesel and aviation fuel, but it could be other things.”
But like any other alternative fuel, the cost makes it hard to implement.
Just last week, Sasol South Africa said it will use Honeywell technology at the Secunda refinery in South Africa. Secunda Synfuels Operations produces syngas through coal gasification and natural gas reforming at its manufacturing facility.
In January, a major stepping stone to commercialization was achieved by Refgas which passed G59 testing with flying colors on the last of their three Jenbacher engines at the Swindon Energy site. This process is undertaken in order to verify that the Swindon generating plant can safely work in parallel or synchronized with the mains electricity utility grid (National Grid) and all three engines have now proven that they can run and export power, using syngas manufactured from a feedstock of low grade construction/demolition wood.
The wave of the future
According to a recent analysis by researchers from the University of Amsterdam’s Sustainable Chemistry and TNO research group, the industrial synthesis of syngas, as well as renewable hydrogen, methanol and diesel, could become competitive with respect to their fossil counterparts within the next two decades. READ MORE