Reducing dependence on imported oil by producing affordable fuels from domestic resources is a goal of the U.S. Department of Energy. WRI is at the forefront of efforts to create clean liquid fuel from biomass, coal and natural gas.
The thermochemical processes developed by WRI for converting feedstock to liquid fuel are related to Fischer-Tropsch (F-T) synthesis and offer significant efficiency gains over other conversion methods. WRI’s proprietary process converts carbonaceous feedstock to synthesis gas, which is then converted to ethanol and other higher alcohols using a proprietary WRI catalyst. Catalysts used in the thermochemical process are tested in our bench-scale fuel synthesis facility. Solid feedstocks are converted to synthesis gas in gasifiers; liquid or gaseous feedstocks are converted in reformers or partial oxidation reactors. After purification, the resulting product is the same as conventional ethanol. WRI’s thermochemical processes can be used to produce ethanol from natural gas (GTL), coal (CTL) or biomass (BTL or cellulosic ethanol).
On the basis of promising results from bench-scale tests, WRI is constructing a 50-gallon-per-day pilot plant to demonstrate conversion of natural gas and anaerobic biodigester gas to mixed alcohols, predominantly ethanol. In this jointly sponsored research project with Novus Energy, LLC (http://www.novus-energy.com/), the pilot plant will also perform test production runs for evaluating gasoline blends and characterizing process emissions and effluents for permitting requirements. Synthesis gas is generated using a dual steam-methane/CO2-methane reformer developed in collaboration with Novus Energy. The reformer uses a catalyst provided by Oxford Catalysts. A fixed-bed reactor and a slurry bubble-column reactor convert synthesis gas to fuels using a combination of a commercial methanol catalyst and WRI's proprietary ethanol catalyst. The plant also features a distillation column for product purification and a Rectisol system for CO2 separation. WRI has equipped the pilot plant with multiple flow meters, temperature transmitters, level transmitters, and pressure transducers for determining mass and energy balance over the entire system.
Additionally, WRI operates a bench-scale catalytic partial oxidation (POX) reactor that allows us to convert gaseous hydrocarbons to synthesis gas. In related research, we have begun a jointly sponsored project with Bioconversion Technology to demonstrate an advanced fuel-flexible gasifier for the conversion of solid opportunity fuels, including coal and biomass.